"Searching for Connotations and Connections Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Paul Ricoeur, and the Language of Madness"

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Jessica Louise Phillips


Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar provides an idiosyncratic account of a young woman’s experience of psychological distress. It therefore serves as a vital tool for bridging the divide between a logo-scientific understanding of mental distress and the lived experience of it.

This article will engage the narrative theory of French theorist Paul Ricoeur, to explicate how Plath’s metaphorical language functions to produce a new “kind” of knowledge about the experience of “madness.”

I will argue that in contrast to the language of psychiatry, as expressed by The American Psychiatric Association in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-fifth edition (The DSM-V), Plath’s abundant metaphors and similes may succeed in aiding the development of empathy in readers precisely because such literary techniques force readers to make meaning and draw connections between the unlikely comparisons Plath generates between terms.


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Author Biography

Jessica Louise Phillips, Monash University, Australia

Jessica is a PhD candidate in Literary Studies at Monash University, Australia. She is the 2018 recipient of the Cecile Parrish Memorial Scholarhship for Graduate Research.