Gilmore Girls, Sylvia Plath, and Mental Health Stigma

plath

WB/Thought Catalog

Sylvia Plath is among the most referenced writers in Gilmore Girls. Plath is acknowledged as one of Rory’s favorite writers throughout the series and Rory is frequently shown reading Plath. But even more common were quips by Lorelai about Plath’s depression and suicide, reinforcing the stigma of mental illness prevalent on the show. In episode 3.3 Lorelai and Rory discuss Rory’s college applications:

LORELAI: You can evaluate a significant experience that’s had an impact on you…or you can write about a person who has had a significant influence on you.

RORY: You?

LORELAI: Or one of your authors, Faulkner or…

RORY: Or Sylvia Plath.

LORELAI: Hm, might send the wrong message.

RORY: The sticking her head in the oven thing?

LORELAI: Yeah. Although she did make her kids a snack first, shows a certain maternal instinct. (Episode 3.3)

For Lorelai the literary quality of Sylvia Plath was undermined by her depression and suicide. She says listing Plath as an influence “might send the wrong message” as if connecting to an author with depression, or having depression, makes one less worthy of acceptance to college. The value of Plath’s writing was undermined for Lorelei because she was “crazy” and reflects a broader fear of “being crazy” by the characters on the show.

For Lorelai, reading Sylvia Plath was a necessarily depressing, unsettling experience, much like attending a party hosted by Chilton students. Lorelai said:

Lorelai: Madeline’s having a party.

Rory: I’m going to go.

Lorelai: You’re going to a Chilton party?

Rory: Yes, I am.

Lorelai: Honey, why don’t you just stay home and read The Bell Jar? Same effect.

She makes light of Plath as a literary figure, because of her depression and eventual suicide. The Sylvia Plath references are part of a broader stigmatization of mental health on the show. Frequent jokes about mental health issues, alongside Loral’s disapproving reaction to Rory attending therapy, make the show hostile to those dealing with mental illness (including many of the show’s viewership). While both Lorelai and Emily show growth throughout the series and end up seeing a therapist, even then they are working through the idea that they shouldn’t be in therapy and that it isn’t for them.

One of the more innocent remarks Lorelai made in Season 4, Episode 13 was “hey, did anyone ever think that Sylvia Plath wasn’t crazy, just cold.” Yet again Lorelai defines Plath by her suicide and not be her writing, considering her crazy.

Even though Sylvia Plath was one of Rory’s favorite writers, the jokes made by Lorelai throughout the series define Plath by her suicide attempt and contribute to the stigma against mental health issues throughout the series. 

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2 thoughts on “Gilmore Girls, Sylvia Plath, and Mental Health Stigma

  1. What about the obvious parallels between Rory/Lorelei and Esther/Mrs. Greenwood? Rory identifies with Esther, and both Lorelei and Mrs. Greenwood are single mothers. In Bell Jar Mrs. Greenwood encourages/forces Esther into damaging electroshock therapy. Lorelei might fear that Rory’s identification with Esther extends to the mother/daughter relationship and by pushing against mental health in an effort to avoid a BellJaresque maternal relationship, she ends up reinforcing the parallel through harming Rory by stigmatizing mental health.

    (While Plath received electroshock therapy in Mass. It is also worth noting that Lorelei is from Hartford, which has a troubled history with electroshock therapy – see Gene Tierney at the Institute of Living at Hartford).

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  2. I was actually rethinking of the parallel between Emily and Lorelei. Emily obviously isn’t a single mother, but much of Lorelei’s strongly held positions are related to her relationship with Emily. Does she her and Emily as having a Bell Jar like relationship and therefore want to protect her relationship with Rory? But also I didn’t know about the Connecticut relationship, super fascinating!

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