The Negative of a Person: Media, Image and Authenticity in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar

  • Stan Smith


Marilyn Monroe is reported to have said that being photographed gave her a ‘womby-tomby feeling’. Characteristically, Norman Mailer interprets this as the expression of a larger identity-crisis in the modern American self. In the photograph, as in death, the subject is expropriated into pure objectivity: the person becomes an image. Yet the image on the movie-screen or in the girlie-magazine continues to go through the motions, a sex-object not released by the death of its original, in a strange post-mortem limbo which is the secular equivalent of Yeats’s artifice of eternity: ‘I call it deathin-life and life-in-death.’ Monroe’s own suicide, in this analysis, would seem to be linked intimately with her status as pin-up and movie-star. What I wish to consider here is the link between suicide and the manufacture of graven images in the work of Sylvia Plath, as the symptom of a characteristically American dilemma: a dilemma focused in Monroe’s representative and pathetic destiny.


Opening Paragraph Totalitarian State American Dilemma Pure Objectivity American Flag 
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  1. 2.
    Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W. W. Norton, 1963; Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin, 1986) p. 2.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1991

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  • Stan Smith

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