Monday, September 2, 2013

Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar"

 If you wonder what it feels like to be inside the mind of a person who suffers from severe depression, reading The Bell Jar will help you approach such a person’s reality. However, stating that this book is about a lady who falls prey to this disorder undermines the complexity of this fascinating book.
  This novel, which is based on true events that Sylvia Plath fictionalized, unravels the conflicts that trouble a young woman who struggles to meet the demands of a society that classified people into “losers” and “winners," while she attempts to be loyal to her identity and to unearth her true self.
  Esther is willing to figure out how to find her place in the world. At the same time, she tries to understand the nature of relationships between men and women. In doing so, she ferrets out the inconsistencies of these relationships, and how the moral code imposed on men and women differs from what happens under the surface. Through different situations, she exposes this reality with humor and irony.
  Esther Greenwood, the main character, tells us her story  in a conversational style that is effortless and captivating--Sylvia Plath knows where to place her metaphors. The raw honesty of her thoughts bemused me.
    How can we fail to understand what a depressive person feels after we have read the following remark?
   “If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn't have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street cafĂ© in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”
  Esther sees the world and her life through the stifling glass of “the bell jar”: her depression. Before descending to the bottom of her nervous breakdown, she dithers over what she should be doing with her life, what paths are the ones she should choose.
   Her doubts unsettle her. She is trapped in a snare, caught up by the false belief that she will not make the right decisions and will lose her chances to accomplish something meaningful. The metaphor of the tree illustrates her concerns.
   “From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.
  “I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make 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.”
  Her experiences in the asylums are memorable and interesting. It is hard for the reader to forget her acquaintance, Joan, who is almost like a friend to her despite the fact that she had dated the same man: Buddy Willard, a medical student.
 The ambiguity of the relationship between Joan and Esther is a recurrent theme. Esther states that she does not like Joan. Yet she also admits that she will always treasure her. "I thought I would always treasure Joan. It was as if we had been forced together by some overwhelming circumstances, like war or plague, and shared a world of our own."
 Interestingly, Joan's final decision foreshadows Sylvia Plath's destiny, and one cannot help but wonder about the blurred boundaries between fiction and reality.
  Another riveting aspect of "The Bell Jar" is revealed to us in the relationships she had with the psychiatrists who treated her. First, the cold distant encounter with her first psychiatrist, Dr Gordon. The treatment started by Dr Gordon was unsuccessful. Then with her second psychiatrist, Dr Nolan, she had a friendly relationship cemented by trust, and the outcome was different (Dr Nolan was also more knowledgeable). Through precise body language and realistic dialogues, Sylvia makes this relationship jump out of the page.
   I think physicians and psychiatrists will benefit from reading this novel, even though the set of events took place in 1953, when Sylvia Plath was a freshman in college.
   Many of the problems portrayed in this novel are universal. This is a literary classic that I thoroughly enjoyed, not only because her writing style is impeccable but also because her reality is as relevant today as it was in 1953.

18 comments:

  1. I have never read this novel, though our oldest daughter studied Sylvia Plath in middle school in her advanced reading class.

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    1. Interesting, Nellie. She wrote many poems. I came across a collection of all her poems at a bookstore last weekend.

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  2. I've never read "The Bell Jar" though I've read a lot of her poetry. You make it sound like something I should read. Thanks.

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    1. Yes, I could have written more about this book, but I didn't want to tire you out.

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  3. I don't think I've ever read "The Bell Jar" but I seem to recall some of the details of Plath's short tormented life. I think I've mentioned this before that I've always passed over fiction in preference to biographies. If a new book had been touted as a "good read," I'd usually just look up the authors life. Now that I look back on that, it's probably strange of me.
    I apologize for being so late reading your post.
    This is an excellent book review.
    See ya later, dear Julia

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    1. Thank you for your feedback, Manzanita. Yes, this book is autobiographical.

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  4. Hi Julia,

    My human is very aware of this book. There are aspects that my human can relate to. A lot of alleged "experts" could learn from this book.

    Some have read a book and some were in the book. As someone who lives with, as best he can, rather than suffer from his mental illness, there is much to inspire. All we need to do is look and understand there are choices.

    In kindness,

    Penny :)

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    1. Thank you, Penny.
      Yes, some have read the book and some were in the book.
      Let my friend know that if he needs to talk I'm here.
      Hugs to both of you.

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  5. Interesting and informative post. I haven't read The Bell Jar.

    Nas

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    1. Thank you. If you read it, feel free to share your own perspective with me.

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  6. "The Bell Jar" is the first thing I read by Plath. I think it pretty much sets the tone for most of the poetry that follows. The metaphor of the fig tree is absolutely brilliant. Sometimes one can be so overwhelmed by all the possibilities of life, one descends into a state of paralysis and ends up doing nothing. .

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    1. Yes, I agree. That's why it is important to choose the right "battles" and to focus the attention on them.

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  7. I read this book, but it's been many years ago. Thanks for the reminder... it might be time to read it again.

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    1. It might be.
      I hope you had a lovely week with your friends.

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  8. I read this book, but it's been many years ago. Thanks for the reminder... it might be time to read it again.

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  9. Aaghee Anna JosephOctober 1, 2013 at 11:44 PM

    Hai julia.I read this book very recently and your write-up is really good in reminding me of the main incidents in this novel.I would like to know what all aspects are portrayed through this novel other than feminism?

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  10. Thank you for your comment. I'm glad to know you enjoyed it.

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I appreciate each and every comment. Thank you.