Bell Jar and Dykes to Watch Out For approach the idea of an “imagined community”. The concept of an “imagined community” was created by Benedict Anderson. His definition is described as “a nation that is community socially constructed, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group”. Although this definition can be interpreted differently by others; in my own words, I interpreted this definition as a person who places themselves in a world of their own that they think best relates to themselves or a group. What makes it imaginary is that it’s not a community that is always used on day to day basis. An example of this would be the use of stereotypes and how people will see a certain style, look or lifestyle and further their connection with that relationship because they feel like they belong in it. I think the definition of an imagined community can relate fairly well for both of these books considering they have their own “worlds” that they are dealing with in different ways. For example, in Bell Jar, the definition of an imagined community is all in her head. In Dykes to Watch Out For, it’s a different type of community compared to Bell Jar because the characters built their own physical community in the bookstore.
The definition of an imagined community can relate to Bell Jar because Plath portrays Esther Greenwood to be different from others and kind of isolate herself away from society. “One core feature of depression is the experience of difficulties in social interactions , which leads to sustained negative affect and post-event rumination … this may affect how social situations are interpreted and thereby affect emotional responding.” (Sanchez, Romero, De Raedt, 2017, para 3) This quote is proving that a mental illness will give you problems with social interactions and this is why people with disorders might isolate themselves. The book title itself, Bell Jar, symbolizes her depression because a bell jar seals whatever is in there from the outside world and keeps everything inside not allowing it to escape. Esther’s depression is symbolized because she’s stuck in her own bell jar, which is her head, sealed with her own thoughts and disconnects herself from other people. There are times where she herself is placed in a group that is different from others due to how different she is from everybody else and because of her mental disorder. I would describe Esther to belong to a mentally ill community and an isolated community. “I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn’t get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty.” (Plath 3) I think this quote portrays the idea of her being mentally ill because Esther herself knows that she should be happy because she was given a month long job as a guest editor but for some reason she just can’t find herself to be enjoying her surroundings. This definitely has to do a lot with a mentally ill community because from personal experience, people with mental disorders know they have a problem and they should be happy but finding the will or motivation to be happy takes longer than expected. “I thought I would swim out until I was too tired to swim back.” (Plath 158) This is showing that Esther belonging to a mentally ill community is stronger than it was because now she’s taking it a step further and wants to risk her own life. “That morning I had tried to hang myself.” (Plath 158) These quotes approach the idea of Esther’s mentally ill community because she’s trying to commit suicide in different ways when her attempts are unsuccessful. This put Esther in her own mentally isolated community because this isn’t something that’s common for girls that don’t suffer from a mental disorder. It also puts her in her own mentally ill world because she’s not taken into consideration the effect it would have on her family if she was actually successful. Esther approaches the idea of being in her own world because she doesn’t live up to the social expectations society has for a girl her age. Society accepts her to always be happy but of course, she eliminates that social idea and focuses on the negatives. Another social expectation is the fact that she should be a virgin before marriage but once she becomes engaged with a guy named Buddy Willard she wants to break that rule. These are a few examples of how Esther lives in her own imagined community because of how she doesn’t let society define her and is trapped in her own head.
The definition of an imagined community can relate to Dykes to Watch Out For because the author automatically placed these characters in a community different from others based on their sexuality. The imagined community that they have categorized themselves in is a community that’s based off of female homosexuality. In the year of when this comic book was first started being written it was very uncommon for people with the same sex to be engaging sexually. At the time, most people had different views towards lesbians and gays because it wasn’t really accepted and a bunch of people would mock people that were gay. This made a lot of people become embarrassed to admit they are into the same sex due to verbal or even physical bullying. “The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute asserts that anti-gay harassment and violence in five major U.S. cities jumped by 131 percent from 1990 to 1991. An earlier (1987) report on bias crime prepared for the National Institute of Justice…concluded that homosexuals may well have become the most frequent victims of hate violence today.” (Anderson 16) This quotes shows the horrible proof of the increasing bullying on gays. That’s why this comic book contains such positivity because in Dykes to Watch Out For, Bechdel completely eliminates the negative idea people had about gay people and portrays the characters to make their own community where their attractions aren’t bashed and they can make their own home where they know they belong to and are welcomed. “I don’t expect anything from the straight world.” (Bechdel 6) This quotes approaches the idea of their own lesbian community because Toni is basically singling out straight people to have their own world which also means that lesbians have their own world too. “We turned that creepy imperialist capital into a whole different world…we had a glimpse of real freedom. It was like being 100% queer and proud of it, but at the same time not being queer at all anymore…y’know?” (Bechdel 18) Mo and her friends attended a march in Washington and the way Mo was describing the march to her boss was powerful. Mo stated how she obviously knows she’s gay but she didn’t feel ashamed of it. It’s also interesting because Mo said they turned the capital into a “whole different world”. I thought this was interesting because I felt this related to when Toni said straight people had their own world which meant gays have their own world too. Due to the march, Mo felt like she was in a different world and accepted for being who she was. She said she had complete freedom. It’s upsetting to know that somebody who is homosexual doesn’t get to experience the real definition of freedom all the time. I thought this was a moment in time in the book where Mo felt like there wasn’t a gap between people with different sexual orientations. Mo even said she didn’t consider herself a queer so I think she just felt normal and just like anybody else. It’s disappointing to know that society has made it that way where lesbians can’t always be happy and embrace their sexuality unless they’re at a function where mostly gay people are attending. I think Dykes to Watch Out For can contain many different communities in the way you interpret the comic but I felt the lesbian community related best due to the protests, marriage legislation, sexual affairs and friendships that were taken place.
Although Bell Jar and Dykes to Watch Out For both approach the idea of an imagined community, I felt when looked at as a pair they were more different than similar. Bell Jar was based on her mental health and Dykes to Watch Out For was based on their sexual orientation. Even though they were different, they both showed a great way to ignore the idea of social norms.