Barriers to the Self
Productivity and the depressed woman in The Bell Jar and Prozac Nation
This article explores Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1967) and Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation (1994) through the effects that depression has on the creation and perception of self in young women. Depression is explored in terms of the barriers it erects around young women’s attempts to conceptualise selfhood as it forms in adolescence. This article particularly focuses on the problem of productivity in both texts as protagonists Esther Greenwood and Elizabeth Wurtzel appear to view productivity, particularly academic and literary, as the means through which they will create and establish a coherent self. This fetishised productivity is halted by their depressions, illustrating a further tension between the wider capitalist society which demands productivity and the destabilising nature of depression. Whilst Esther and Elizabeth have different experiences, due to the periods of composition, both characters and texts have striking similarities which suggest that there is a common thread which unites the experiences of female depression in the late twentieth century.
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