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The Bell Jar (P.S.) by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar (P.S.)

erazz16, March 29, 2012

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, takes the reader through Esther Greenwood’s life from June 1953 to January 1954 as she battles through the downward spiral of her life that is depression. By telling the novel through Esther’s eyes, the reader truly gets a sense of what depression is like. Esther lives in New York where glamour and appearance is everything, but no one sees how imperfect her life truly is. As the novel starts, Esther is a young woman, attending college on scholarship, and living in the lap of luxury. Slowly, however, she falls into depression through the continuous hardships she must face. The novel dives into the inescapable reality of depression and the problems of self-image caused by society, ultimately asking if recovery is actually possible.
In order to create the reality of depression for the reader, Plath describes Ether’s world with extreme vividness and compares her life to ideas the reader can understand, describing them in elegant but simple terms. Esther almost justifies her suicidal thoughts through these descriptions. Esther can see “the years of [her] life spaced along a road in the form of telephone poles, threaded together by wires. [She] counted one, two, three… nineteen telephone poles, and then wires dangled into space, and try as [she] would, [she] couldn’t see a single pole beyond the nineteenth” (123). Esther sees no future past nineteen years old. She is so young, but in her mind, her life is already over. She even decides how she would end it saying, “When they asked some old Roman philosopher or other how he wanted to die, he said he would open his veins in a warm bath. I thought it would be easy, lying in the tub and seeing redness flower from my wrists, flush after flush through the clear water, till I sank to sleep under a surface gaudy as poppies” (147). Death becomes such an easy concept for Esther, and she makes it sound almost beautiful.
Not only do images create her reasoning for suicide, but they also help the reader comprehend the confusing, intangible thoughts of a victim of depression. “I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo” (3). The reader can better understand how the world just seems to hang around Esther; how life can move around her while she is at a standstill. Esther is trapped inside a bell jar where “the world itself is the bad dream” (237). One problem is that she cannot choose a path for her life. She says;

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t wake up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet ” (77)

She is so indecisive that she’s dying trying to choose between all the amazing possibilities for her life. However, the longer she waits, more opportunities pass her by.
But what caused her to feel so dull inside? “The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it” (77). Part of her depression is caused by the self-image she creates due to society. She feels inadequate, so she does not see value in living. As she watches her friends, she judges her own life. Her friend, Doreen, starts a relationship, and Esther thinks “there is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other” (16). Esther’s own loneliness is compounded by the excitement of the relationships around her. She feels demoralized because of the gap that exists in that part of her life. Esther refers to herself with forceful, harsh words like “inadequate” and “demoralizing” because the society around her forces her to view her own life as worthless.
Through the vividness and forcefulness of Esther’s thoughts in The Bell Jar, the reader is immersed inside her head, creating an experience that is almost real; a story so genuine and tangible that the reader feels like they are suffering the depression with her, battling it with her. The reader’s eyes can truly be opened to the cold, dark existence of those suffering from depression. It draws the reader so close to Esther that they share a piece of her life. The reader NEEDS to know what happens next to Ester because they NEED to know she is okay, making it impossible to put the book down. In the end, Sylvia Plath leaves the reader to judge whether or not recovery is truly possible, or, will Esther forever remain an empty shell, living through the motions of the rest of her life, trapped in the bell jar.
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