In Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood seems incapable of healthy relationships with other women. She is trapped in a patriarchal society with rigid expectations of womanhood. The cost of transgressing social norms is isolation, institutionalization and a lost identity as woman. The struggle for an individual identity under this regime is enough to drive a person to the verge of suicide. Given the oppressive system under which she must operate, Esther Greenwood's problems with women stem from her conflict between individuality and conformity.
The Bell Jar, a coming of age, semi-autobiographical novel, by Sylvia Plath follows the life of a troubled young girl named Esther Greenwood, her slow descent into mental illness and then her subsequent recovery. The second half of the book details Esther's mental breakdown, her incarceration and stumbling recovery whilst the first half uncovers the protagonists, narrators day to day struggles which go on to contribute to her eventual breakdown . Throughout the novel, the reader comes to understand that Esther feels there are few choices; in character a woman must be either the virgin or the whore, both of which are demonstrated by Esther's friends, Betsy and Doreen. This presents one of the key internal conflicts the protagonist, Esther battles.
There are multiple details that stood out as particularly true to life in my view. One was the nariartator that it is telling the story/ his view point main character mentions what check out aisle number. It mentions how the three girls looked. The character payed attention to how the girl that seem to be the leader was walking saying “she came down a little hard on her heels, as if she didn’t walk in her bare feet much” this quote helps you picture how the person and might help picture what the girl was walking like. He gave details to where he was and what he was doing when the three girls was doing. He mentions that “I’m in the third check-out slot with my back to the door so that I didn’t see them until they had reach the bread” this helps the reader to set up an mental image of the store as they are reading.
In The Bell Jar, Esther finds it extremely difficult to put her thoughts into words. She loses friends as she is unable to communicate with them. She lacks relationships due to her silent behaviour. “The silence depresses me. It isn’t the silence of silence. It’s my own silence,” (Plath 18) she says. Although at first Esther feels upset by the lack of connections she has, she loses motivation to even try and explain herself to others. Unlike Mr. Chance in The Cloud Chamber, and Deborah in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Esther’s mental state does not improve, and she is unable to resolve lost connections. Esther’s mother tells her, “the cure for thinking too much about yourself is helping somebody who is worse off than you” (Plath 161). However, in her case, she’s so disconnected from the people who were once a big part of her life, that she doesn’t know who to reach out to. She doesn’t see herself being capable of maintaining stable and happy relationships with others when she can’t even maintain her own happiness.
“They were not badly off whilst Morel was in the hospital. There were fourteen shillings a week from the pit, then shillings from the sick club, and five shillings from the Disability Fund.” (pg.87)
1) “They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment” (O’Brien 20).
The underworld seemed to be getting colder and I couldn’t tell if it was because I’d fled the room that was lit or because Hades’s heart had been nearly ripped out. I was weeping pretty hard by now, feeling awfully betrayed and as lonely as my injurer. I felt my way around in the darkness for a while, thankful to the slight bluish glow that seemed to at least partially lighten ones way down in the underworld.
While at home, Esther becomes into a deep depression when thinking about her experience in New York. She doesn’t want to read, write, or sleep and she stops bathing herself. Her mother sends her to see Dr. Gordon who is her first psychiatrist whom she doesn’t like and doesn’t trust. He is the man with a good looking family, and to Esther he is conceited. He doesn’t help Esther, but only hurts her more. He prescribes her with shock treatment. After this horrifying experience, she decides to kill herself. She tries to slit her wrists, but can only bring herself to slicing her calf. She tries to hang herself but can’t find a place to tie the rope, she tries to drown herself at the beach, but cannot keep herself under water, and then she crawls into a space in the basement and takes a lot of sleeping pills. “Wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.” (Plath pg. 117) This quote shows how she felt trapped in the bell jar, and her suicidal urges began. She awakes in the hospital to find that her attempt at suicide wasn’t successful. She is sent to another psychological ward where she still wants to end her life. Esther becomes very paranoid and uncooperative. She gets moves to a private hospital paid for by Philomena Guinea a famous novelist. Esther improves and gets a new
People's lives are shaped through their success and failure in their personal relationships with each other. The author Sylvia Plath demonstrates this in the novel, The Bell Jar. This is the direct result of the loss of support from a loved one, the lack of support and encouragement, and lack of self confidence and insecurity in Esther's life in the The Bell Jar. It was shaped through her success and failures in her personal relationships between others and herself.
One main theme in The Bell Jar is growth through pain. Esther experiences many painful events that deeply affected her life. For example, Esther stated,” I felt happier than I had been since I was nine and running along the hot white beaches with my father the summer before he died” (p.74). Esther’s inability to move past her father’s death added to her increasing mental illness. Esther had trouble growing up and dealing with normal events that everyone experiences. She takes an entirely different path and decides that she will not act the way society wants. Instead of finding a new meaning in life, she decides to committee suicide instead. Luckily, she is able to fight through these urges, and recover. Her time in the mental hospital was difficult, but she was able to move past her mad thoughts, and start a new life. Esther’s refusal to follow society’s path seems heroic, but her ability to recovery after all her pain was an incredibly dignified act.
Sylvia Plath’s novel, “The Bell Jar”, tells a story of a young woman’s descent into mental illness. Esther Greenwood, a 19 year old girl, struggles to find meaning within her life as she sees a distorted version of the world. In Plath’s novel, different elements and themes of symbolism are used to explain the mental downfall of the book’s main character and narrator such as cutting her off from others, forcing her to delve further into her own mind, and casting an air of negativity around her. Plath uses images of rotting fig trees and veils of mist to convey the desperation she feels when confronted with issues of her future. Esther Greenwood feels that she is trapped under a bell jar, which distorts her view of the world around her.
Sylvia Plath uses many literary devices to convey her purpose in The Bell Jar such as symbolism. The Bell Jar itself is used as symbolic representation of the emotional state Esther is in. The glass jar distorts her image of the world as she feels trapped under the glass. It represents mental illness; a confining jar that descends over her mind and doesn’t allow her to live and think freely. Symbols of life and death pervade The Bell Jar. Esther experiences psychological distress which is a major motif in the novel. The death of Esther’s father and the relationship with her mother is a possible reason for her illness. Sylvia Plath expresses the difficulties Esther faces and parallels her struggle with depression and illustrates it using various symbols such as a fig tree, mirrors, beating heart and a bell jar throughout the novel.