The Inoperative Community in The Bell Jar: The Sharing of Interrupted Myth

  • Maria Luisa Pascual-Garrido Departamento de Filologías Inglesa y Alemana. Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. Universidad de Córdoba


In this essay I intend to offer an analysis of Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar (1963) that goes beyond the scope of the confessional and feminist readings which have prevailed in Plathian studies. Following the critical interest raised by the notion of community and its problematic relationship with individual subjectivity in recent decades, I draw on Jean-Luc Nancy’s understanding of “community” (1985-1986) in order to offer an alternative interpretation of The Bell Jar. The theoretical framework which inspires this essay declares the impossibility of an operative community which actually fulfils the natural longing of all human beings for immanence and transcendence. I argue that The Bell Jar actually tackles the interruption of two long-standing myths—the possibility of community and the assertion of autonomy of the self. Since the latter has already been addressed by several authors as a central issue in Plath’s novel, I here focus on how she deals with the shattered myth of community. Far from being a narcissistic account of private traumas, the novel is paradoxically an attempt to share with others a universal plight—the overwhelming sense of humans as exposed and finite beings facing the absence of a community of immanence. Ironically, it is the sharing of that disturbing truth which allows the emergence of community in Plath’s novel.Key words: Sylvia Plath; The Bell Jar; inoperative community; singularity; finitude; exposure

Author Biography

Maria Luisa Pascual-Garrido, Departamento de Filologías Inglesa y Alemana. Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. Universidad de Córdoba
María Luisa Pascual-Garrido is a Lecturer at the Department of English and German Studies at the University of Córdoba (Spain). Her research interests are varied, ranging from literary translation to modern English literature (Shakespeare, Johnson), contemporary American literature (Plath, Oates, Hoban) and women’s writing. She has published articles and book chapters in those areas and Spanish editions of Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas (Berenice, 2007), Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (Cátedra, 2011) and, more recently, Mary Astell’s proto-feminist essays “A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Part I” and “Some Reflections on Marriage” collected in Mary Astell. Escritos Feministas (Maia, 2013).


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