A question came up in class today about chapter 12 of The Bell Jar and it got me thinking about unreliable narrators. I recall the first time I read the novel… I was in my early 20s, and I picked up the book because I wanted to expose myself to more “classics” in my reading-for-pleasure selections. I read most of it during a family vacation to Orlando, and I was very much distracted by Mickey Mouse, warm weather, and poolside fun. Needless to say, I didn’t give the novel a very close reading, and I let some of those “I don’t get it” moments slide. Now, with a much closer reading, I’m understanding how Plath’s own mental illness comes alive in her heroine, Esther Greenwood. In giving it some more thought, I figured that it would be a good idea to do some basic research on Schizophrenia to present in a class lesson. I referred to an old college psychology textbook that I pilfered from a friend several years ago, and I found the reading on Schizophrenia to be quite extensive. I can’t really cover all of the information about it and then present on some other topics of interest (such as mental institutions of the 1950s, shock therapy, and suicide), so I’ve copied the chapter and I’m preparing it for distribution in class on Thursday.
I guess what I’m really here to say is that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE teaching this novel with seniors! We’re looking at it through critically using both Reader Response and Feminist Literary Theory. As well, we’ve taken a close look at Plath’s biography and applied our knowledge of her life and background to the reading of the novel. I wish I would have known to do this when I read this myself the first time – it would have made a lot more sense to me then.