Mental Mental Health F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda was

Mental health has become a larger household discussion topic
in recent times due to multiple factors such as social media, the news and
literature. Different disorders have become more commonly discussed with less
secrecy ultimately causing more awareness about these issues. The Mental Health
Foundation created a ‘Fundamental Facts’ booklet in 2016 containing the
eye-opening statistic that ‘Since 2000, there has been a slight steady increase
in the proportion of women with symptoms of common mental health problems with
this increase in prevalence mostly evident at the severe end of the scale.’1, whilst
this is gender specific, it demonstrates how the increase of diagnosis of
mental health disorders has increased over time. This provenly increasing
statistic could have been influenced by said media and literature but I,
however, am considering the influence only from literature on mental health as
it is a source that is forever changing yet engrained into history. Through
studying texts from renowned authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sylvia
Plath, the portrayal of mental health from the current period is more
reflective thus more interesting to analyse. To compare to these texts, I have
also compared more modern literature from John Green and Stephen Chbosky to
illustrate the difference between older and more recent opinions on mental
health in different cultures and a more modern society. Ultimately, I have
predicted a larger focus on mental health as it is something that has become a
more fascinating yet relatable topic in modern literature.

 

Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald: Portrayal of Mental Health

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda was known for her beauty
and her high spirits, her and husband, Scott, becoming mascots for the jazz
age. They lived a lavish partying lifestyle, regrettably under the watchful eye
of society around them. Unfortunately, due to their fame, Zelda’s mental health
struggle was very public and exposed, especially since Fitzgerald paralleled
her illnesses through the character Nicole Diver in his novel Tender is the
Night. Zelda’s diagnosed schizophrenia and elopement with Edouard S. Jozan is
obviously a reflection of his wife in Fitzgerald’s novel, creating an almost
auto-biographical text. Fiction and reality become one as both the real
Fitzgerald romance and the novel take place in the French Riviera.

 

Nicole Diver is a young woman described to have a life
filled with sorrow after losing her mother and having had a sexually abusive
relationship from her father, it has also been made aware to the reader that
she has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic. In the novel both structural and
language features portray her mental health to the reader – as well as the
obvious diagnosis from Doctor Dohmler. The use of childish language and thus
imagery created from this adds to the presentation of her illness, structure in
the novel also enforces an idea of special treatment that Nicole receives also.

 

The description of Nicole’s childhood is a key feature of
her mental health depiction to the reader, setting the scene to her rough
background suggests the reasons behind her illness. Her children did not
believe that schizophrenia ran in the family, implying that her illness was in
fact caused by the rape that she suffered when she was a teenager. Some believe
that the harsh and provocative portrayal of Nicole’s mental health is a mockery
of Fitzgerald’s wife mental health since Zelda had no say in what was included in
this novel – due to the fact Scott had said that she was not allowed to publish
her own version of events as a novel. Nicole’s haunting childhood is also
portrayed to the reader through the language feature of a childish lexical
field created through her own dialect to the others around her as well as to
her own husband, Dick Diver. In the novel, Nicole finds her in an uncomfortable
situation when she is in an extremely close proximity with her husband and
acclaimed actress ‘Rosemary Hoyt’ who Dick is having an affair with. During the
private screening of the movie ‘Daddy’s Girl’ in the novel, Nicole uses a childlike
manner to express her comments throughout+ the play with ‘Ooo-ooo-tweet, de
tweetest thing, wasn’t she dest too tweet?’2.
The use of mispronouncing the words already suggests that the person speaking
is a child, because of the common use of spoken mistakes made by young children
or children to learning to speak. However, this childish assumption is also
supported by the language feature of alliteration that the mispronunciation
causes – the simple alliteration suggests that she herself is unknowledgeable
because 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 perfectly
fine before in the novel that this opinion of her is not the case and instead
reflects her mental health deterioration. This outburst can be read by a reader
as a suppression of her emotive pain due to her childhood experiences, due to
uncomfortable situation that she is set in, with her husband and her husbands
supposed lover, combined with her unfortunate childhood association with a
father and daughter relationship in the movie ‘Daddy’s Girl’, leads to a small
but noticeable sign of her schizophrenia. In this scenario, the symptoms of
schizophrenia are seen, being, confused thoughts and changes in behaviour and
thoughts according to the NHS3.
The contrast between her previously normal speech and this suddenly immature
version fits perfectly with the symptoms of the mental illness – which she has
been diagnosed for during the text.

This is a small dose of awareness of mental illness, but to
the reader during the time of Fitzgerald this outburst would have been quite
extreme – especially when a reader would have compared the symptoms shown in
Nicole 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 this
outcome is probably not what Scott himself intended for it to be. By giving
Nicole a first-person narrative in the novel, he gives the character a chance
to humanize herself and relate to others, as up until this point a reader would
have seen her unusual interactions and disassociated themselves with the idea
of her.

 

Having been the only character in the novel to have a
narrative already singles her out from the other characters immediately,
Nicole’s mental health is clearly addressed in this way. This structural
feature gives the character a voice behind her own decisions which were not
portrayed to the reader in the first book of the novel. During the contextual
period of the novel, mental health was uncommonly approached and not seen as a
topic for literature to be about.  This
first-person part of the novel could be an interpretation of the author’s own
method of trying to understand his wife’s mental illness, by authoring a
parallel of his own wife’s narrative to help put himself in her shoes. A main
reason for this singular narrative can be assumed solely as an explanation for
Nicole’s thoughts, this gives the reader an insight which again does suggest to
her mental illnesses but creates sympathy for her as they can understand the
tragedy which she has gone through in her life. Fitzgerald’s thought behind
this structure could be an attempt to redeem his wife after bluntly describing his
wife’s illness through the character of Nicole.

 

The publicity of Zelda’s mental health is ultimately
portrayed through the character of Nicole Diver, whilst because of the couple’s
fame it gained gossip, the awareness of this illness and many other like it
increases. If not because of the fame that Zelda had as a character, I
personally believe that the novel wouldn’t have become as successful without
the gossip fuelling the trend to read the novel. However, with the society of
the Fitzgerald’s time treating the issue of mental health quite sensitively,
Fitzgerald’s novel is one of the first to show some enlightenment on the
subject, due to experiencing it first hand from his wife.

 

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath: Portrayal of Mental Health

The semi-autobiographical novel the Bell Jar follows the
life of nineteen-year-old Esther Greenwood who, at the beginning of the text is
described to be a successful student, luckily finding a place in a New York
paid internship. Whilst her life seems to be perfect, with all opportunities
being given to her, she finds New York and other things supposed to muse her
boring and unentertaining also. Slowly, her life starts to derail after many
strange events which ultimately lead to her depression. Esther goes through
electric-shock treatment, worsening her mental conditions leading to suicidal
thought before being put into private health care and begins to recover. Sylvia
Plath’s life events are very similar to Esther Greenwood’s in the novel, as
Plath had studied at Smith College, had a scholarship at Mademoiselle magazine
in 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 – inferring
to personal insight that Plath had about the mental health conditions mentioned
in the novel. Overall the novel itself is semi-autobiographical, and Esther’s
journey is perhaps inspired by

 

The title ‘The Bell Jar’ itself is read by critics to
symbolise both Esther’s mental suffocation induced by a bell jar physically
itself as well as, a ‘symbol of society’s stifling constraints and befuddling
mixed messages that trap Sylvia Plath’s heroine,’4.
At the beginning of the novel, whilst Esther is on her paid internship in New
York, the lifestyle and objects that are glamourized and obsessed with by the
other applicants do not interest her self – she attempts to disassociate
herself with the only other ‘normal’ person Doreen (Esther describes her to be
unlike the other girls as she is more interested in boys than what infatuates
the other candidates). Esther in the novel immediately ostracizes herself from
her peers during the internship, however her only attempt of bonding with the
other girls at the feast they attend is negatively foreshadowed to the reader
through imagery. The ‘friendship’ shared through the caviar and lobster that
Esther and the other girls feast upon together, quickly leads to food
poisoning, this graphic description of her illness creates association of the
feeling of being sick and her liking of her peers. Violent imagery could be
read by some readers as Esther’s subconscious desires to not fit into that
stereotypical behaviour of the other girls– this is a sign of her
disassociating herself which is the start of her mental health deterioration. Whilst
this novel has a general focus on the narrator’s depression, the first few
chapters of the text looks at her general confusion whilst growing up in her ever
high expecting society.

 

Although Plath had spent some time in hospital because of
her own mental illness she was also trying to sell her novel – Mary Jane Ward’s
autobiographical ‘The Snake Pit’ contained experiences from her own
hospitalization which Plath had based information for Esther’s description of
hospitalization because she believed the public wanted to see ‘mental health
stuff’. The narrative monologue of the novel is a main feature of the structure
of the text as it easily allows a reader to visually image Esther’s journey
through her life, but because of this almost open dialect between the reader
and the narrator her downfall is ultimately harder to visibly see as she uses
manipulative language to trick herself and others to believe what she is
experiencing is normal. This manipulative distraction that the narrator uses is
the same as psychological manipulation which is common in many mental health
disorders5 –
this could be read as the start of her downfall or just a reminder to us the
readers that it has gone unnoticed until now, creating sympathy for Esther as
no one had noticed her symptoms. This creates awareness of mental health,
especially since the author, Sylvia Plath knows ‘mental health stuff’ sells, as
the audience for this genre is getting bigger thus creating more awareness for
depression as the interest in it is getting bigger.

 

A key language feature to portray the effects of depression
in the novel is the imagery of the fig tree where Esther describes herself in a
different way as ‘I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree
in the story.

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a
wonderful future beckoned and winked. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of
this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which
of the figs I would choose’. The imagery of ‘starving to death’ suggests how
she feels paralyzed within her depression, as she is undecisive – the use of
anthropomorphism shown using verbs ‘beckoned’ and ‘winked’ also supports the
metaphor of the fig tree that she has used for herself to summarise her current
state and emotion whilst suffering with depression and schizophrenia. This
literary feature is used to show the narrators self-awareness of herself and
her mental health, thus creating more public awareness of her depression
perhaps glamourizing. This glamorisation of this topic is also due to the
lexical field of nature created by the ‘fig tree’, which is also associated
with purity and peace, leading to a romanticised portrayal of her illness. This
positive portrayal could lead to the explanation for the increasing awareness
of mental health, as this beautiful depiction of herself and her journey
creates a larger plot through sympathy for the narrator. This symbolism is seen
as one of the most important features of her description, it questions society
and normal behaviour as well as herself, as she doubts the fact that she must
get married to fit into society.

 

Separation of herself and the others around her is clear as
she pushes away Buddy, who she previously idolized with his perfect career and
life and rejects his proposal as she realises she wants more in life than just
to be married to a successful man. Quickly after this Esther breaks her leg
skiing and whilst recovering from her injury she learns to find that she hasn’t
got into a specific summer writing programme – her spiralling suicidal
depression becomes know quickly to her mother, others close to her and the
reader. Esther goes through two doctors, one who mistreats her with the common
electric shock treatment that was used during that period, and a female doctor
who helps her recover after Esther finally can gain trust with those in the
medical profession again. Whilst the second half of the novel is more graphic
about her treatment and her recovery, the first half is where the causes of her
bad mental health is explained. I personally believe that the
semi-autobiographical narrative description of Esther’s emotions is more
mentally graphic, as a reader can experience her confusion, self-doubt and
conclusively her spiral. This awareness created in the first half of the book
is what has led to more people commonly knowing about what a person goes
through whilst suffering from a mental illness. Plath knew that she wanted to
write a best seller and knew that if she didn’t write about ‘mental health
stuff’ she would be a ‘fool if I don’t relive, recreate it’6. Only
a month after the novel was published, Sylvia Plath killed herself at the age
of 30, forever echoing the importance of mental health awareness. In my
opinion, this novel has great reason for it to be revolutionary for mental
health 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 the
teenager character Esther Greenwood. This novel was one of its kind during this
period, 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 she
believed in.

 

The Perks of Being a Wall Flower – Stephen Chbosky: Portrayal of Mental
Health

The Perks of Being a Wall Flower is a coming of age novel
that was published more recently than the other two novels in 1999. The main
character the text follows is Charlie who is introverted character going
through high school and his experience of making friends whilst at school,
after his best friend committing suicide the previous year and the revelation
during the text of other impacting experiences occurring to him, his mental
health stops him from being outgoing. Revealed in the novel, Charlie had
experienced sexual abuse from his auntie during his childhood which led Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder, another mental health illness.

 

 The loss of his
friend is not massively featured on in the novel and the film respectably, as
instead it is just stated in a brief passing and not dwelled on massively by
Charlie himself. His disassociation to the fact that he had lost a friend, even
though it was only a year ago and could be reflected on more heavily in the
storyline 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 his
suppressive instincts that he automatically has for sensitive topics.
Suppressing his past experiences and memories is a symptom of PTSD after
suffering the abuse from his aunt, and the loss of his friend also shows to the
reader how he deals with his traumatic experiences.7
Yet, mental health is not the initial thought as because of Charlie himself
being a ‘wallflower’ his submissive discussion of talking about his friend’s
death could just be a characteristic of being shy or introverted. Him avoiding
the subject and hiding his past through his quiet behaviour is just reflective
to the reader of his natural instincts to suppress his emotions. This behaviour
is mainly due to the sexual abuse that he encountered as a child.

 

The structure of the novel includes flashbacks from
Charlie’s past life experiences, mainly haunting memories of his auntie but
especially in the movie his PTSD is highlighted as the memories are not graphic
of any incidents and are instead quite neutral thoughts. This suppressive
thought could be read as manipulation of his own mind – following another
symptom of PTSD behaviour. Due to these blackouts that Charlie has in his own
memories, he only remembers his aunt to be a nice lady, with nice memories and
experiences with her and because he believed that he was so positively close
with her, following her death he blamed himself. Guilt takes over his whole
life and as a teenager he blamed everything upon himself and saw everyone else
as faultless. However, his romantic interest Sam, brings out the suppressed
memories that Charlie has. This is structurally important as the intimacy that
Charlie and Sam share –e.g. when she touches his leg – reminds him of his
sexually abusive past. Whilst this makes their relationship confusing, it helps
him understand what had happened between him and his aunt, ultimately not
feeling guilty and responsible for her death.

 

The title of the novel immediately suggests the plot of the
novel as the noun ‘Wallflower’ itself describes Charlie as a person. The nature
imagery of the flower itself used is a symbol of being shy or not sociable as
is commonly also referred to someone who would be described a ‘loner’, Charlie
the main character in the novel finds himself being a ‘wallflower’ at high
school as he avoids everyone else. Especially without his best friend, Charlie
finds it harder to bond with other people and instead spends his time focusing
on his academic studies focusing on Literature. In the novel, Charlie bonds
with his English teacher, finding that he his is only peer as he simply does
not bond with his classmates as he is emotionally more mature than them due to
his life experiences.

The pessimistic view on life that the main character of the
novel has leads him to believe that he will never be happy and sees himself to
be unimportant and worthless. Charlie eventually does find friends, however
they also all feel like him because they all are ‘wallflowers’ too. Because of
this guilt that he feels from his aunt’s death, Charlie is constantly looking
out for his newly found friends and caring for them constantly. His selfless
care for other people is seen when he says ‘I don’t know if this is right or
not, but it made me sad regardless. Not for Mary Elizabeth. Or for me. Just in
general’8,
as he shows his interests in other’s self-esteem. These traits are all coping
mechanisms that Charlie has just become accustomed to in hope to solve his
confusion.

At the end of the novel, Charlie’s mental health becomes a
bigger part of his life due to more flashbacks of his memories occurring whilst
important changes are happening in his life. He finally accepts that his guilt
is not truly deserved and with the help of medical professionals and his
family’s care he understands that he can reach happiness and do what he really
wants to.

 

Overall due to the movie’s popularity and the novel’s
success, this story has reached different audiences due to it being a coming of
age movie. The interest in the novel and film is more seen in the romantic
story line and less of the description of PTSD. The theme of mental health is
not a key feature of the novel as instead it focuses on Charlie’s growth as a
person, as it follows his experience through high school creating friends that
he connects with. But this means that awareness of mental health itself is not
focused on and the time that Charlie spends in hospital recovering is seen as
more of a setting and less of an emotional journey. Although the movie itself
gained an incredible amount of publicity this storyline was romanticised with
the relationship between Sam and Charlie, losing the description and coverage
of post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

Looking for Alaska: John Green – Portrayal of Mental Health

 

Looking for Alaska by John Green is a popular teen novel
featuring school, heartbreak and other classic teen struggles. The character Alaska
Young is observed and befriended by ‘Pudge’ who eventually falls in love with
her. Although the novel is narrated partially by Pudge, Alaska is the character
who is supposedly suffering from a mental illness. During the novel, Alaska
drunkenly admits to blaming herself for her mother’s death when she did not call
911 when suffering an aneurysm. Pudge concludes that this experience that
Alaska went through as an eight-year-old girl led her to become irrational and
impulsive, and at the time of Alaska’s own death in a car crash, he also
believes that it was an intentional crash in attempt to redeem herself because
of the guilt she faces.

 

The death of Alaska itself is inconclusive as neither the
reader of any of the characters know if it was an intended suicide or just a
drunk accidental car crash. Due to the timing of the death, Alaska’s mother’s
birthday, Pudge believes that it was an intentional accident because of her
previously shown rash behaviour as well as her drinking which led to cause
this. Because of her behaviour which led to their research, Pudge and their
friend Colonel believed that Alaska was suffering from depression, but it was
undiagnosed.

1 https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/fundamental-facts-about-mental-health-2016.pdf

2
Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald

3 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/schizophrenia/symptoms/

4 https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/plath/article/viewFile/4714/4350

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_manipulation

6
Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier Mental
Hospital

By Alex Beam

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7 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms/

8
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky Part 3 Chapter 10 Paragraph
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