Typically in the summer I gravitate towards lighthearted reads to diagnose the inevitable literary exhaustion from the conclusion of a semester, but The Bell Jar has always been on my radar and I finally decided it was the time. Naturally, I had my hesitations in picking up this novel considering it’s semi-autobiographic and dark reputation, but I am so grateful I did because I may have found myself a new favourite.
The Bell Jar’s protagonist Esther Greenwood is a deeply talented 19 year old on an internship at a fashion magazine in New York. On the surface, Esther’s existence seems glamorous and enticing, but on the inside she feels suffocated by society’s expectations (hence, the bell jar) and this is the trigger for her downward spiral into the mental illness of a bleak depression.
But I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure at all. How did I know that someday―at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere―the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?
Although Esther’s decline is uncomfortably raw and at times difficult to read, it is incredibly eye-opening to be so deeply entangled inside the mind of a mental illness, especially one occurring in the 1960’s. It’s important to remember Esther’s journey with fighting her inner demon occurred in a time where mental health was completely neglected and side-eyed as insanity. It humbled me to travel back in time in Esther’s shoes and realize truly how far we’ve come with our understanding of depression. The world nowadays may be many things, but if there’s one thing we’ve done right it’s our progress towards the acknowledgement and treatment of mental health issues.
The more hopeless you were, the further away they hid you.
In terms of style, Sylvia Plath writes in a poetic prose that is simplistic enough for people of all literary capacities to follow along with and comprehend. Plath incorporates standout sentences and metaphors that gave me chills and had me highlighting entire pages in an attempt to embed them into my mind for safe-keeping. One of the most memorable quotes I appreciated was Plath’s comparison of Esther’s future to a fig tree- keep an eye out for it if you pick up this novel. I promise that this quote, not unlike many others, will leave your eyes twinkling in a state of awe at Plath’s descriptions.
That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.
I recommend The Bell Jar for any reader in their twenty’s prepared for a mental whirlwind and those who may be feeling indecisive about their future. I feel I must add and forewarn that the details and imagery can be hauntingly graphic at times but in my opinion, it was undeniably worth it. Even if mental illness isn’t a topic you can directly relate to like myself, there is an endless amount of take-aways from this book ranging from the treatment of women in the 1960’s to the turmoil of determining a career path to the struggles of female friendship and marriage. I found myself relating with intense detail to more than a handful of her descriptions of coming of age and all the confusion that encompasses. The amount of pressure and uncertainty we feel is so often under appreciated and this novel flawlessly brings awareness to the unfiltered ambivalence of growing up.
**Sidenote: For all those who read my last post, evidently I have finally commit myself to a blog title! It was a name that was starring me in the face the entire time and that is quintessential of why writing is my greatest passion- it never fails to help me find the answers I’m desperately searching for. Welcome to Defining Rose!**