Confession, subjectivity and McCarthyist paranoia in Sylvia Plaths The Bell Jar: A Foucauldian perspective

Sarah Ives


Sylvia Plath is a much more political writer than she has been given credit for; and Confession, subjectivity and McCarthyist paranoia in Sylvia Plaths The Bell Jar: A Foucauldian perspective aims to reveal the extent of that politicisation. Prior to the publication of Michel Foucaults The Archaeology of Knowledge, Sylvia Plath was demonstrating through her narrator Esther Greenwood how the subject is produced within discourse, when that discourse is the brief but profoundly unsettling period of McCarthyism in post-War America. This is a discourse that has the quintessentially American values of liberal individualism at its core.

The notion of a Plathian subject revealed within discourse, however, is more than just a confirmation of Foucaults archaeological method. In fact, the Plathian subject tests Foucaults methodology, by underscoring the extent to which Esther Greenwood manages to find a mental space outside of McCarthyism. This testing of the boundaries of the subject as constructed within discourse reveals a silent but nonetheless subversive capacity for human agency outside of the parameters of McCarthyism, a capacity for action that is something akin to Debordian mental freedom from the capitalist society of the spectacle. ?????


Sylvia Plath; Michel Foucault; McCarthyism; Mental Space; Agency; Subjectivity

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Works Cited

Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. London: Rebel Press, 2004.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. Abingdon: Routledge, 2002.

Lowell, Robert. Life Studies. London: Faber & Faber, 1959.

Melley, Timothy. Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America. Ithaca: Cornell U P, 2000.

Phillips, Robert. The Confessional Poets. Illinois: Southern Illinois U. P, 1973.

Plath, Sylvia The Bell Jar. London: Faber & Faber, 1963.

Rabinow, Paul, Ed. The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucaults Thought. London: Penguin, 1991.


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