Sylvia Plath’s Dr. Nolan: an Analysis Based on Erikson’s Psychological Developmental Stages Model

Sylvia Plath’s Dr. Nolan: An Analysis based on Erikson’s Psychological Developmental Stages model

In the Novel, The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath introduces Esther Greenwood as an intelligent young woman who is institutionalized for mental illness in 1950’s America. The root of Esther’s mental decline is an identity crisis, and her improvement following institutionalization is because her psychiatrist, Dr. Nolan, assists her through a psychological developmental stage that she was unable to complete in her teen years.
Esther’s challenges can be framed in the context of Erik Erikson’s “Stages of Psychological Development” (Erikson, 290-292). Dr. Nolan, a female psychiatrist is a role model with whom Esther can relate and feel loved. Dr. Nolan helps Esther resolve inner conflicts that have hindered the development of a cohesive identity.
Erikson states that youth age 12 to 18 experiences a crisis of “identity versus role confusion” (Erikson, 290-292). During her adolescence Esther should have been establishing both her occupational and social identity by interacting with peers and role models. According to Erikson, the questions Esther should have resolved during the stage are ‘who am I?’ and ‘what can I become’?   Erikson claims that a youth’s identity needs to develop sufficiently in order for her to be develop intimacy skills in her early twenties (Erikson, 290-292).. However, as an intelligent, independent teenage girl in 1950s America, Esther lacked role models or peers with whom she could relate. Her identity became “a girl with fifteen years of straight A's” (Plath, 68).
Esther’s shaky identity is challenged when she moves to New York and discovers that a college transcript sense of self of little use outside school. Socially with the other interns and occupationally at Lady’s Day Magazine, Esther confronts 1950s values that conflict with whom she seems to be and what she would like to become. Esther lives in a hotel with fellow female interns and their...