Mental health has become a larger household discussion topicin recent times due to multiple factors such as social media, the news andliterature. Different disorders have become more commonly discussed with lesssecrecy ultimately causing more awareness about these issues. The Mental HealthFoundation created a ‘Fundamental Facts’ booklet in 2016 containing theeye-opening statistic that ‘Since 2000, there has been a slight steady increasein the proportion of women with symptoms of common mental health problems withthis increase in prevalence mostly evident at the severe end of the scale.’1, whilstthis is gender specific, it demonstrates how the increase of diagnosis ofmental health disorders has increased over time.
This provenly increasingstatistic could have been influenced by said media and literature but I,however, am considering the influence only from literature on mental health asit is a source that is forever changing yet engrained into history. Throughstudying texts from renowned authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and SylviaPlath, the portrayal of mental health from the current period is morereflective thus more interesting to analyse. To compare to these texts, I havealso compared more modern literature from John Green and Stephen Chbosky toillustrate the difference between older and more recent opinions on mentalhealth in different cultures and a more modern society. Ultimately, I havepredicted a larger focus on mental health as it is something that has become amore fascinating yet relatable topic in modern literature. Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald: Portrayal of Mental Health F.
Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda was known for her beautyand her high spirits, her and husband, Scott, becoming mascots for the jazzage. They lived a lavish partying lifestyle, regrettably under the watchful eyeof society around them. Unfortunately, due to their fame, Zelda’s mental healthstruggle was very public and exposed, especially since Fitzgerald paralleledher illnesses through the character Nicole Diver in his novel Tender is theNight. Zelda’s diagnosed schizophrenia and elopement with Edouard S. Jozan isobviously a reflection of his wife in Fitzgerald’s novel, creating an almostauto-biographical text. Fiction and reality become one as both the realFitzgerald romance and the novel take place in the French Riviera. Nicole Diver is a young woman described to have a lifefilled with sorrow after losing her mother and having had a sexually abusiverelationship from her father, it has also been made aware to the reader thatshe has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic.
In the novel both structural andlanguage features portray her mental health to the reader – as well as theobvious diagnosis from Doctor Dohmler. The use of childish language and thusimagery created from this adds to the presentation of her illness, structure inthe novel also enforces an idea of special treatment that Nicole receives also. The description of Nicole’s childhood is a key feature ofher mental health depiction to the reader, setting the scene to her roughbackground suggests the reasons behind her illness. Her children did notbelieve that schizophrenia ran in the family, implying that her illness was infact caused by the rape that she suffered when she was a teenager.
Some believethat the harsh and provocative portrayal of Nicole’s mental health is a mockeryof Fitzgerald’s wife mental health since Zelda had no say in what was included inthis novel – due to the fact Scott had said that she was not allowed to publishher own version of events as a novel. Nicole’s haunting childhood is alsoportrayed to the reader through the language feature of a childish lexicalfield created through her own dialect to the others around her as well as toher own husband, Dick Diver. In the novel, Nicole finds her in an uncomfortablesituation when she is in an extremely close proximity with her husband andacclaimed actress ‘Rosemary Hoyt’ who Dick is having an affair with. During theprivate screening of the movie ‘Daddy’s Girl’ in the novel, Nicole uses a childlikemanner to express her comments throughout+ the play with ‘Ooo-ooo-tweet, detweetest thing, wasn’t she dest too tweet?’2.The use of mispronouncing the words already suggests that the person speakingis a child, because of the common use of spoken mistakes made by young childrenor children to learning to speak.
However, this childish assumption is alsosupported by the language feature of alliteration that the mispronunciationcauses – the simple alliteration suggests that she herself is unknowledgeablebecause of the basic language feature as well as the obvious bad speech. However,the reader knows that as a woman who is intellectual and has spoken perfectlyfine before in the novel that this opinion of her is not the case and insteadreflects her mental health deterioration. This outburst can be read by a readeras a suppression of her emotive pain due to her childhood experiences, due touncomfortable situation that she is set in, with her husband and her husbandssupposed lover, combined with her unfortunate childhood association with afather and daughter relationship in the movie ‘Daddy’s Girl’, leads to a smallbut noticeable sign of her schizophrenia. In this scenario, the symptoms ofschizophrenia are seen, being, confused thoughts and changes in behaviour andthoughts according to the NHS3.The contrast between her previously normal speech and this suddenly immatureversion fits perfectly with the symptoms of the mental illness – which she hasbeen diagnosed for during the text. This is a small dose of awareness of mental illness, but tothe reader during the time of Fitzgerald this outburst would have been quiteextreme – especially when a reader would have compared the symptoms shown inNicole to Zelda Fitzgerald. Due to the fame and the flamboyancy that Zelda had,her illness was seen more as gossip and less as an awareness although thisoutcome is probably not what Scott himself intended for it to be.
By givingNicole a first-person narrative in the novel, he gives the character a chanceto humanize herself and relate to others, as up until this point a reader wouldhave seen her unusual interactions and disassociated themselves with the ideaof her. Having been the only character in the novel to have anarrative already singles her out from the other characters immediately,Nicole’s mental health is clearly addressed in this way. This structuralfeature gives the character a voice behind her own decisions which were notportrayed to the reader in the first book of the novel. During the contextualperiod of the novel, mental health was uncommonly approached and not seen as atopic for literature to be about. Thisfirst-person part of the novel could be an interpretation of the author’s ownmethod of trying to understand his wife’s mental illness, by authoring aparallel of his own wife’s narrative to help put himself in her shoes. A mainreason for this singular narrative can be assumed solely as an explanation forNicole’s thoughts, this gives the reader an insight which again does suggest toher mental illnesses but creates sympathy for her as they can understand thetragedy which she has gone through in her life. Fitzgerald’s thought behindthis structure could be an attempt to redeem his wife after bluntly describing hiswife’s illness through the character of Nicole.
The publicity of Zelda’s mental health is ultimatelyportrayed through the character of Nicole Diver, whilst because of the couple’sfame it gained gossip, the awareness of this illness and many other like itincreases. If not because of the fame that Zelda had as a character, Ipersonally believe that the novel wouldn’t have become as successful withoutthe gossip fuelling the trend to read the novel. However, with the society ofthe Fitzgerald’s time treating the issue of mental health quite sensitively,Fitzgerald’s novel is one of the first to show some enlightenment on thesubject, due to experiencing it first hand from his wife. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath: Portrayal of Mental HealthThe semi-autobiographical novel the Bell Jar follows thelife of nineteen-year-old Esther Greenwood who, at the beginning of the text isdescribed to be a successful student, luckily finding a place in a New Yorkpaid internship.
Whilst her life seems to be perfect, with all opportunitiesbeing given to her, she finds New York and other things supposed to muse herboring and unentertaining also. Slowly, her life starts to derail after manystrange events which ultimately lead to her depression. Esther goes throughelectric-shock treatment, worsening her mental conditions leading to suicidalthought before being put into private health care and begins to recover.
SylviaPlath’s life events are very similar to Esther Greenwood’s in the novel, asPlath had studied at Smith College, had a scholarship at Mademoiselle magazinein 1953 as well as later as a young adult being admitted to Mclean Hospital.Multiple parallels are drawn between Plath’s real life and the text – inferringto personal insight that Plath had about the mental health conditions mentionedin the novel. Overall the novel itself is semi-autobiographical, and Esther’sjourney is perhaps inspired by The title ‘The Bell Jar’ itself is read by critics tosymbolise both Esther’s mental suffocation induced by a bell jar physicallyitself as well as, a ‘symbol of society’s stifling constraints and befuddlingmixed messages that trap Sylvia Plath’s heroine,’4.
At the beginning of the novel, whilst Esther is on her paid internship in NewYork, the lifestyle and objects that are glamourized and obsessed with by theother applicants do not interest her self – she attempts to disassociateherself with the only other ‘normal’ person Doreen (Esther describes her to beunlike the other girls as she is more interested in boys than what infatuatesthe other candidates). Esther in the novel immediately ostracizes herself fromher peers during the internship, however her only attempt of bonding with theother girls at the feast they attend is negatively foreshadowed to the readerthrough imagery. The ‘friendship’ shared through the caviar and lobster thatEsther and the other girls feast upon together, quickly leads to foodpoisoning, this graphic description of her illness creates association of thefeeling of being sick and her liking of her peers. Violent imagery could beread by some readers as Esther’s subconscious desires to not fit into thatstereotypical behaviour of the other girls– this is a sign of herdisassociating herself which is the start of her mental health deterioration. Whilstthis novel has a general focus on the narrator’s depression, the first fewchapters of the text looks at her general confusion whilst growing up in her everhigh expecting society. Although Plath had spent some time in hospital because ofher own mental illness she was also trying to sell her novel – Mary Jane Ward’sautobiographical ‘The Snake Pit’ contained experiences from her ownhospitalization which Plath had based information for Esther’s description ofhospitalization because she believed the public wanted to see ‘mental healthstuff’. The narrative monologue of the novel is a main feature of the structureof the text as it easily allows a reader to visually image Esther’s journeythrough her life, but because of this almost open dialect between the readerand the narrator her downfall is ultimately harder to visibly see as she usesmanipulative language to trick herself and others to believe what she isexperiencing is normal. This manipulative distraction that the narrator uses isthe same as psychological manipulation which is common in many mental healthdisorders5 –this could be read as the start of her downfall or just a reminder to us thereaders that it has gone unnoticed until now, creating sympathy for Esther asno one had noticed her symptoms.
This creates awareness of mental health,especially since the author, Sylvia Plath knows ‘mental health stuff’ sells, asthe audience for this genre is getting bigger thus creating more awareness fordepression as the interest in it is getting bigger. A key language feature to portray the effects of depressionin the novel is the imagery of the fig tree where Esther describes herself in adifferent way as ‘I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig treein the story.From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, awonderful future beckoned and winked. I saw myself sitting in the crotch ofthis fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind whichof the figs I would choose’. The imagery of ‘starving to death’ suggests howshe feels paralyzed within her depression, as she is undecisive – the use ofanthropomorphism shown using verbs ‘beckoned’ and ‘winked’ also supports themetaphor of the fig tree that she has used for herself to summarise her currentstate and emotion whilst suffering with depression and schizophrenia. Thisliterary feature is used to show the narrators self-awareness of herself andher mental health, thus creating more public awareness of her depressionperhaps glamourizing. This glamorisation of this topic is also due to thelexical field of nature created by the ‘fig tree’, which is also associatedwith purity and peace, leading to a romanticised portrayal of her illness.
Thispositive portrayal could lead to the explanation for the increasing awarenessof mental health, as this beautiful depiction of herself and her journeycreates a larger plot through sympathy for the narrator. This symbolism is seenas one of the most important features of her description, it questions societyand normal behaviour as well as herself, as she doubts the fact that she mustget married to fit into society. Separation of herself and the others around her is clear asshe pushes away Buddy, who she previously idolized with his perfect career andlife and rejects his proposal as she realises she wants more in life than justto be married to a successful man. Quickly after this Esther breaks her legskiing and whilst recovering from her injury she learns to find that she hasn’tgot into a specific summer writing programme – her spiralling suicidaldepression becomes know quickly to her mother, others close to her and thereader. Esther goes through two doctors, one who mistreats her with the commonelectric shock treatment that was used during that period, and a female doctorwho helps her recover after Esther finally can gain trust with those in themedical profession again.
Whilst the second half of the novel is more graphicabout her treatment and her recovery, the first half is where the causes of herbad mental health is explained. I personally believe that thesemi-autobiographical narrative description of Esther’s emotions is morementally graphic, as a reader can experience her confusion, self-doubt andconclusively her spiral. This awareness created in the first half of the bookis what has led to more people commonly knowing about what a person goesthrough whilst suffering from a mental illness. Plath knew that she wanted towrite a best seller and knew that if she didn’t write about ‘mental healthstuff’ she would be a ‘fool if I don’t relive, recreate it’6. Onlya month after the novel was published, Sylvia Plath killed herself at the ageof 30, forever echoing the importance of mental health awareness.
In myopinion, this novel has great reason for it to be revolutionary for mentalhealth as its glamorization and entertainment due to the story line and topic,made it so popular but also created sympathy for those who suffer through theteenager character Esther Greenwood. This novel was one of its kind during thisperiod, making it a key feature of the growth of awareness of mental health,and due to Plath’s unfortunate death makes the novel a martyr for what shebelieved in. The Perks of Being a Wall Flower – Stephen Chbosky: Portrayal of MentalHealthThe Perks of Being a Wall Flower is a coming of age novelthat was published more recently than the other two novels in 1999. The maincharacter the text follows is Charlie who is introverted character goingthrough high school and his experience of making friends whilst at school,after his best friend committing suicide the previous year and the revelationduring the text of other impacting experiences occurring to him, his mentalhealth stops him from being outgoing.
Revealed in the novel, Charlie hadexperienced sexual abuse from his auntie during his childhood which led Post-TraumaticStress Disorder, another mental health illness. The loss of hisfriend is not massively featured on in the novel and the film respectably, asinstead it is just stated in a brief passing and not dwelled on massively byCharlie himself. His disassociation to the fact that he had lost a friend, eventhough it was only a year ago and could be reflected on more heavily in thestoryline but instead is just seen as another unfortunate event in his life.His actions – which he does not actually act on – shows to the reader hissuppressive instincts that he automatically has for sensitive topics.Suppressing his past experiences and memories is a symptom of PTSD aftersuffering the abuse from his aunt, and the loss of his friend also shows to thereader how he deals with his traumatic experiences.
7Yet, mental health is not the initial thought as because of Charlie himselfbeing a ‘wallflower’ his submissive discussion of talking about his friend’sdeath could just be a characteristic of being shy or introverted. Him avoidingthe subject and hiding his past through his quiet behaviour is just reflectiveto the reader of his natural instincts to suppress his emotions. This behaviouris mainly due to the sexual abuse that he encountered as a child.
The structure of the novel includes flashbacks fromCharlie’s past life experiences, mainly haunting memories of his auntie butespecially in the movie his PTSD is highlighted as the memories are not graphicof any incidents and are instead quite neutral thoughts. This suppressivethought could be read as manipulation of his own mind – following anothersymptom of PTSD behaviour. Due to these blackouts that Charlie has in his ownmemories, he only remembers his aunt to be a nice lady, with nice memories andexperiences with her and because he believed that he was so positively closewith her, following her death he blamed himself. Guilt takes over his wholelife and as a teenager he blamed everything upon himself and saw everyone elseas faultless. However, his romantic interest Sam, brings out the suppressedmemories that Charlie has. This is structurally important as the intimacy thatCharlie and Sam share –e.
g. when she touches his leg – reminds him of hissexually abusive past. Whilst this makes their relationship confusing, it helpshim understand what had happened between him and his aunt, ultimately notfeeling guilty and responsible for her death. The title of the novel immediately suggests the plot of thenovel as the noun ‘Wallflower’ itself describes Charlie as a person. The natureimagery of the flower itself used is a symbol of being shy or not sociable asis commonly also referred to someone who would be described a ‘loner’, Charliethe main character in the novel finds himself being a ‘wallflower’ at highschool as he avoids everyone else. Especially without his best friend, Charliefinds it harder to bond with other people and instead spends his time focusingon his academic studies focusing on Literature. In the novel, Charlie bondswith his English teacher, finding that he his is only peer as he simply doesnot bond with his classmates as he is emotionally more mature than them due tohis life experiences. The pessimistic view on life that the main character of thenovel has leads him to believe that he will never be happy and sees himself tobe unimportant and worthless.
Charlie eventually does find friends, howeverthey also all feel like him because they all are ‘wallflowers’ too. Because ofthis guilt that he feels from his aunt’s death, Charlie is constantly lookingout for his newly found friends and caring for them constantly. His selflesscare for other people is seen when he says ‘I don’t know if this is right ornot, but it made me sad regardless. Not for Mary Elizabeth. Or for me. Just ingeneral’8,as he shows his interests in other’s self-esteem. These traits are all copingmechanisms that Charlie has just become accustomed to in hope to solve hisconfusion.At the end of the novel, Charlie’s mental health becomes abigger part of his life due to more flashbacks of his memories occurring whilstimportant changes are happening in his life.
He finally accepts that his guiltis not truly deserved and with the help of medical professionals and hisfamily’s care he understands that he can reach happiness and do what he reallywants to. Overall due to the movie’s popularity and the novel’ssuccess, this story has reached different audiences due to it being a coming ofage movie. The interest in the novel and film is more seen in the romanticstory line and less of the description of PTSD. The theme of mental health isnot a key feature of the novel as instead it focuses on Charlie’s growth as aperson, as it follows his experience through high school creating friends thathe connects with. But this means that awareness of mental health itself is notfocused on and the time that Charlie spends in hospital recovering is seen asmore of a setting and less of an emotional journey. Although the movie itselfgained an incredible amount of publicity this storyline was romanticised withthe relationship between Sam and Charlie, losing the description and coverageof post-traumatic stress disorder.
Looking for Alaska: John Green – Portrayal of Mental Health Looking for Alaska by John Green is a popular teen novelfeaturing school, heartbreak and other classic teen struggles. The character AlaskaYoung is observed and befriended by ‘Pudge’ who eventually falls in love withher. Although the novel is narrated partially by Pudge, Alaska is the characterwho is supposedly suffering from a mental illness. During the novel, Alaskadrunkenly admits to blaming herself for her mother’s death when she did not call911 when suffering an aneurysm. Pudge concludes that this experience thatAlaska went through as an eight-year-old girl led her to become irrational andimpulsive, and at the time of Alaska’s own death in a car crash, he alsobelieves that it was an intentional crash in attempt to redeem herself becauseof the guilt she faces. The death of Alaska itself is inconclusive as neither thereader of any of the characters know if it was an intended suicide or just adrunk accidental car crash. Due to the timing of the death, Alaska’s mother’sbirthday, Pudge believes that it was an intentional accident because of herpreviously shown rash behaviour as well as her drinking which led to causethis.
Because of her behaviour which led to their research, Pudge and theirfriend Colonel believed that Alaska was suffering from depression, but it wasundiagnosed.1 https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/fundamental-facts-about-mental-health-2016.pdf2Tender is the Night – F.
Scott Fitzgerald3 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/schizophrenia/symptoms/4 https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/plath/article/viewFile/4714/43505 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_manipulation6Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier MentalHospitalBy Alex BeamTop ofFormBottomof Form 7 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms/8The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky Part 3 Chapter 10 Paragraph16