Role of Food in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar

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The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is rich with an array of motifs, all which serve to sustain the novel’s primary themes. A motif particularly prevalent within the first half of the novel involves food, specifically Esther Greenwood’s relationship with food. This peculiar relationship corroborates the book’s themes of Esther’s continuous rebirthing rituals, and of her extreme dissatisfaction. The interrelation with food functions in two distinct manners: literally and figuratively. This analysis will concentrate on the figurative role of food in The Bell Jar, and how it denotes Esther’s overall state. Early on in the novel, Esther establishes her attitude towards food: “I’m not sure why it is, but I love food more than just…show more content…
She describes this peculiar strategy, as seen in the Ladies’ Day luncheon, “While we were standing up behind our chairs listening to the welcome speech, I had bowed my head and secretly eyed the position of the bowls of caviar” (Plath 26). Esther demonstrates substantial control when dealing with food, a control that is indubitably absent in her own life. Perhaps the most memorable incident regarding food in The Bell Jar is the aforementioned Ladies’ Day luncheon, which is reminiscent to Esther’s rebirthing and purifying bath rituals. Esther gorges herself during the banquet in attempts to satisfy her starvation, however this binge eventually leads to purging. Caroline J. Smith notes in “‘The Feeding of Young Women’: Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Mademoiselle Magazine, and the Domestic Ideal” that “purging seems to be the necessary and inevitable result of [Esther’s] disordered eating” (16). The purging appears to emulate the same rebirthing and purification effect Esther feels after a hot bath: “I felt purged and holy and ready for a new life” (Plath 48). Yet on the following page, Esther is once again “starving” (Plath 49). This accurately displays her insatiable hunger; regardless of how much Esther consumes, or how purified she feels, she is never quite satisfied. All of The Bell Jar’s episodes with food lead to one comprehensive
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