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Barker’s Regeneration & Plath’s The Bell Jar: Compare & Contrast Essay


Literature is usually regarded as a guide, which leads us throughout the realities of life, impacts our conclusions, and permeates our cultural consciousness. It is in the literature that we find our characters; we find the evidence of our pasts and an expectation for our potential. It is literature that surpasses time and relates to the truth of our life. Literature is the key that releases our realization of our life and ourselves.

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In search of the realization, we stagger upon the essence of insanity. How do insanity and madness fit into our comprehending of truth? Especially for women, how do the enveloping history of hysterics and madness that so guzzled our gender in the nineteenth and early twentieth century shape the comprehension that we have of ourselves today. It is through the literature of the epoch that we are better able to understand ourselves.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Sylvia Plath, and Edith Wharton are just a few of the American authors who have explored the theme of madness in the lives of women. The Yellow Wallpaper, The Awakening, The House of Mirth, and The Bell Jar offer an analysis of the patriarchal arrangement that pervades our culture and our thinking by connecting the domination of women to the insanity and hysterics that was used to explain gender. Freud and Laing tried to clear away the hysterics of women as being a hardship of gender, while critics such as Elaine Showalter, Phyllis Chesler and Carroll Smith Rosenberg associate the high incidents of hysteria and insanity to the development of the American manufacturing community.

Love madness was observed both in the literature of the nineteenth century and in realism. At the time, the meaning of madness and how it must be cured was going under remarkable modifications. Love madness was regarded as an only female syndrome. Madness, on the whole, was regarded to happen more often in females due to their expected weakness. Being female was approximately a form of madness as of what is seen as their natural weakness. Living in a male-ruled community, women were forced to be puny, to be unhealthy. Women were regarded as aberrant if they were too powerful in their events and feelings. They were also regarded down upon if they stated their sexuality too deliberately. Love insanity itself is connected with “sexual information and incorruptibility”. A woman was in the menace of becoming insane if she possessed too much sexual information: “A young lady was only worth as much as her chastity and appearance of total purity…. Once lead off course, she was the fallen lady, and nothing could reunite her until she died”.

The nineteenth-century British community was able to persuade ladies into ignoring their sexuality through stories of Medusa-like beings. Young women would hear different tales of women who had given in to their carnal desires and then, as punishment, became virtual monsters. An example of this can be seen in Bertha Mason, who becomes a monster due to her overwhelming sexual origin. Elaine Showalter tackles these legends in her book, A Literature of Their Own, by saying, “the legends themselves express an edifying approach toward female passion as a potentially hazardous force that must be chastised and imprisoned.”


“Regeneration” by Pat Barker is an imposing novel. Barker based the book on actual details, the relations between an army psychologist at the British hospital at Craiglockhart and messaged anti-war campaigners and poet Sigfried Sassoon. It is a riveting story of the poet’s struggle with his own scruples, his compulsion as a British citizen of the gentry, and his relations with companions and friends who were active in his life. Barker clearly depicts to us the agony and the disaster of this pointless war where an untold lot of young men were murdered (on both sides) for causes that are more selfish and political rather than just and gentle.

First of all, it is necessary to mention that madness is a central notion in Regeneration. Madness is shown through indications such as autism, the fright of blood, and Sassoon’s angry anti-war statement. As such performance is believed intolerable, Sassoon is given the label “shell-shocked” to shame his regards. For lots of the characters in Regeneration, trying to treat their indications only provides to make them inferior. Rivers finally requests whether it is “mad” for these warriors to break down in war or to blindly follow the orders which they are given. Rivers also requested whether it is right to care for this “madness” only to send soldiers back to the war, which made them mad in the primary position.

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The value of various forms of therapy, a theme in Regeneration, becomes instrumental in combating shell shock. Rivers maintains a calm attitude when dealing with his patients. He encourages them to talk about the war rather than forget the horrific images and “to let themselves feel the pity and terror their war experience inevitably evoked” (Barker 48). Rivers is even willing to perform hypnosis on Billy Prior in order to help him retrieve his repressed memories. Unlike many of his peers, who turn to electric shock therapy, Dr Rivers encourages rest and relaxation for his patients. His ultimate goal is to see all of the men return to the front in good health, prepared to fight once again for their country. To achieve that goal, Rivers maintains a gentle, therapeutic approach.

The triumph of River’s techniques can be seen in the result of his patients. From the very first lines of the novel, Billy Prior has a conversion confusion of muteness. Though, through Rivers’ patient elbowing, finally, Prior starts speaking again. River’s mild manner empowers him to pull Prior out of his silent state. Another patient, Willard, is mysteriously paralyzed, although nothing is wrong with his spine. With time and Rivers’ support, Willard is able to situate and go on yet again. Again, Rivers’ kind proceeds permit him to be victorious. Rivers also manages another type of treatment by permitting communication among the patients and the staff at Craiglockhart. The companionships among the patients, like that of Owen and Sassoon, supply the patients with ways of communicating and sharing deep knowledge with each other. Rivers’ father-like relations with his enduring also is a form of treatment, as the people are able to literally open up to him. As the patients’ progression toward treatment, many of them take over their own treatment. Owen and Sassoon find openings in the art of poetry. The success of the various therapeutic methods presented in the novel proves how valuable therapy is to mental and physical recovery from shell shock.

Shell shock plays a massive role in the development of Regeneration. Without this informative component, there would be few if any patients in Craiglockhart. Shell shock depicts for readers a world of insanity overcome only by therapy. The disarray imprisons young and old, rich and poor. The characters determine that the bravest of men can collapse and the strongest can weaken, but through therapy, everyone can survive.

In contrast with Sylvia Plath, who discovered the matters of female madness, Pat Baker devoted his novel to the issues of the madness of the stronger sex. Thus, the key points of these masterpieces are different cheese from chalk.

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar is usually regarded as a classic of American literature. This astonishing work records the breakdown of Esther Greenwood: bright, attractive, extremely talented, and victorious – but slowly going under and perhaps for the last time. Step by cautious step, Sylvia Plath brings us with Esther through a lovely month in New York as a contest-winning junior editor on a journal, her more and more worried relations with her mother, and with the guy, she dated in college, and finally, overwhelmingly, into the madness itself. The reader is drawn into her breakdown with such passion that her madness becomes finally actual and even balanced, as credible and available an experience as disappearing to the movies.

Such deep dissemination into the dark and ploughing bends of the psyche is rare in any narration. It points to the fact that The Bell Jar is a mainly autobiographical work about Plath’s own summer of 1953 when she was a visitor editor at Mademoiselle and went through a breakdown. It discloses so much about the resources of Sylvia Plath’s own calamity that its magazine was considered an attraction in prose.

It is a fine narration, as astringent and remorseless as her latest poems. The world in which the occasions of the novel take place in a world surrounded by the Cold War on one side and the sexual war on the other. This novel is neither political nor chronological in any slender wisdom, but in looking at the insanity of the world and the world of insanity, it forces us to think the great matter posed by all truly realistic fiction: What is realism and how can it be dealt with? Esther Greenwood’s description of her year in the bell jar is as clear and legible as it is witty and upsetting.

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This terse explanation of an American girl’s stop working and action gains its substantial power from impartiality that is odd bearing in mind the nature of the material. Sylvia Plath’s concentration had the excellence of callousness. Images and oratory are restricted by cleverness.

It is also necessary to mention that the novel also describes the related matters of madness. These may be regarded s related to the reason, that women were being considered insane for defending these rights and positions:

The constrained Role of Women in America: There are figures of examples of irritation with the limited potentials available to women, particularly imaginative ones. When considering her future, Esther envisages her objectives as a fig tree, with many possibilities, but becomes increasingly upset knowing that she can only select one. While in university, she is only established by her stares when she has a boyfriend; they give her a solid time when she uses her time learning.

Women’s Rights Connotations: Some examples occur when Esther determines that her boyfriend had sexual contact with a waitress over the summer, which may propose that promiscuity in a male is suitable, but in a woman, it is not. In order to challenge the romanticism that Esther distinguishes as flawed, she instantly attempts to lose her virginity as rapidly as possible. After, Esther undergoes irrepressible bleeding and is admitted to a hospital. Esther’s effort at losing her virginity in order to challenge customary approaches toward sexual contacts and gender is one of Plath’s announcements of rebelliousness against the codes of social and moral conduct for women.

Growth Through Pain and Rebirth: This story is often seen as a coming-of-age novel. Though, Esther Greenwood does not go through a distinctive passageway from child to parenthood. Esther wants to memorize each of her single familiarities and take them with her as her “countryside.” By the end of the novel, she finally seems equipped to re-enter the world as an adult.

Lesbianism: Some researchers also summit out the lesbian subject in the latter part of the book, when Esther defines that her friend Joan is lesbian, and memorizes a story of two students who were released from her college when they were found in a bedroom together, though they were only stroking each other’s hair. Asked by Esther what a lady might look for in another woman, Dr Nolan replies, “tenderness.” Plath has become a kind of lesbian symbol in some communities for her truthful seemed at what was then thought to be as a solemn mental illness whose victims were tending to violent and unlawful performance.


The matters of madness and hysteria had been described not only in fiction novels but also in research articles. But the fact is, to get acquainted with the reality of life aspect, or feeling, or soul condition, people address not to science, but to life experience, which is often concentrated in literature.

Yet, alter also created mayhem in the confidential arena of women’s lives. The new century revealed a gradually more large amount of identified cases of “nervous confusions”, counting such “ailments” as neurasthenia, hysterics, and anorexia nervous. The early 1900s are called an age of hysterics, as the number of diagnosed hysteria cases achieved its peak for this time. At first glimpse, it may have emerged that the American woman could not stand the heaviness of equal education and opportunity. Insanity appeared to be troubling the women of the USA, so much so that insanity was seen as womanly excellence.

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The enormous social, economic, and demographic changes occurring in the nineteenth century – urbanization, industrialization, and a move toward bourgeois values – must have been psychologically difficult for all members of society, but they would have been especially trying for women because ‘the family and gender role socialization remained relatively inflexible”. Thus, as Diane Price Herdl asserts, “hysteria may have served as one option or tactic offering particular women otherwise unable to respond to these changes a chance to redefine or restructure their place within the family. Madness was a tactic for women to escape the encompassing and oppressive roles of the patriarchal system.


Pat Barker; Regeneration¸ Plume publishing 1993.

Sylvia Plath; The Bell Jar, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2000.

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