Exploring Female Literary Madness

This post was written by current student Barbara Steele.

Photograph of the cover of novel "The Bell Jar"

The idea for my DST 99 independent project came from a course I had taken as an upper liberal called women’s writing.  This course briefly investigated a mad women character who was locked away in an attic. The women authors who created this mad female character were trying to break into what was considered a male profession only. It was believed that these created mad female characters were originally created to foil the female authors themselves, to overcome their own oppression of patriarchal societies in which they lived.

I became interested in wanting to explore and learn more about this mad women phenomenon using a disabilities studies lens of critical thinking.  As young women I have been passionate about feminism and the societal roles women are expected to have. In society woman have many roles mother, sister, and wife and bread winner in some cases.  I wanted to research the effects on women who have been given a mad diagnosis. Would their madness be societal based or a product of their nature within the selected literary works?  I was interested in wanting to understand what is so popular about mad women.

In today’s society there are many women authors are who held to the same standard as men when it comes to creating great literary works.  Since women authors are seem as equals I was curious as to why women still feel the desire to create these mad women characters.  What does this say about our society? Have we become obsessed with female madness? These are some of the questions that sparked my research journey.

For this research process I decided to read some literary works that entail mad female characters and watched the movies that coincided with the book.  The titles I have chosen to use were Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kasen and The bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

Reading literary works allows the audience to receive an inside perspective as to the characters inner thoughts are revealed, the author is the who describes a scene through writing but it is up to the reader to use their imagination while reading the work.  In a movie the audience only is able to see what they observe on the screen.  The director is the one who filters what is seen and how.  The director is automatically giving the audience a pre-determined way of thinking about a certain film regarding a female character who been affected with madness.

Using both the literary works and their entitled movies I was able to create more critical interpretations of what female madness represents in literary works and film interpretations.  Two titles I have used were set in late 1800’s and the other two works are from 1950’s.   Themes that have been reoccurring are the use and context of language, the negative effects of labeling, the stigma attached to having a mental disability as well as many others that will be discussed in my paper. Although these findings seem grim there has been improvements in the person’s quality of life and supports used for an individual with mental illness.

This is a brief description of my research project which will be completed in April 2015.


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