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Original Essays | July 24, 2014

Jessica Valenti: IMG Full Frontal Feminism Revisited



It is arguably the worst and best time to be a feminist. In the years since I first wrote Full Frontal Feminism, we've seen a huge cultural shift in... Continue »
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The Bell Jar (P.S.) by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar (P.S.)

condonv, May 1, 2009

Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar displays a profound understanding of the fall into deep medical depression and the drastic, rapid mental decline experienced as Esther Greenwood lives in her own bell jar of suicidal thoughts. Her fierce writing style and psychological understanding of the complex emotions individuals feel when they are apart of this level of deterioration leaves her audience in awe.
Plath’s comprehension of this mental struggle is reflective of her own psyche. This novel is a representation of her daily battle with suicidal demons. On February 11, 1963, in her British home, Plath killed herself by allowing gas to suffocate her. Before her untimely death, and still today, she is viewed as an outstanding poet. Before The Bell Jar was written, Plath’s major works were the collections of poems, The Colosssus and Ariel. These poems even awarded her the honor of being told these poems were worthy of a Pulitzer by the popular critic A. Alvarez. Plath’s work in The Bell Jar also earned ravings (and criticisms as well) for her themes and unique style.
This novel arises the enveloping theme of obsession. The beginning of the work allows Esther Greenwood to characterize her life through the lens of herself and society by her expectance “to be the envy of thousands of other college girls”(2). Yet within her supposed-to-be world, she felt “very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo”(3). This sensation of emptiness drives her into denial over her obsession with Buddy Willard and the upfront obsession with death. The repetition of Willard’s affair leads to an obsession with Greenwood’s own virginity and her feeling of inadequacy. In turn, this sensation of inadequacy creates her longing for death.
Plath’s vivid elaboration of Greenwood’s suicidal mentality allows an outstanding description of the ability to sharply turn into clinical depression. Her pointed diction stabs as Greenwood depicts the bluntness of death. This painful view of ending is witnessed as she describes the eastern samurai’s tradition of seppuku. Her diction of the passage:
“they disemboweled themselves when anything went wrong…before they had time to think twice, they would jab the knives in and zip them round, one on the upper crescent and one on the lower crescent, making a full circle. Then their stomach skin would come loose, and they would die”(138)
allows fluid visualization of the painful death. These descriptions within the novel allow the readers to be transported into the character’s mind and view the obsession of death that plagues the clinically depressed’ minds. The syntax of run-on sentences displays the rapid thought process and excitement of the pleasures of suicide. Because there is no break in the sentence, as it is read there is one long thought without a sufficient pause. This is then followed by an abrupt truth, such as “it would take two motions”(147) after Greenwood describes her developed plan for cutting her wrists. The simplicity of the fact reflects the simplicity of the idea in the suicidal perspective. This brilliant technique to gain understanding is one that sets this novel apart from others.
The Bell Jar is a work that will be preserved through time. Plath’s developed themes through the novel are the world’s constant. It is transports the thought process of the struggling individual to those who may not fully comprehend the challenges and will continue to do so for eons to come.
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