The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is her semi auto-biographical work that was released a month after her suicide, by her husband, British writer and poet, Ted Hughes in the year 1963. The book is a narrative of the author’s experiences and her encounter with mental illness during the prime period of her adulthood and how she struggles to overcome it against the burden of societal pressure. Although the overall plot might seem regular, it has more to it than just her struggles with depression. The underlying themes of feminism, gender stereotypes and sexism, during the late 19th century are discussed in detail from the author’s point of view.
With talks about the movie adaption of “The Bell Jar” being released this year, directed by Kristen Dunst, starring Dakota Fanning as Esther Greenwood, we decided to explore and come up with an in-depth understanding of what makes “The Bell Jar” an unforgettable read.
Here are five reasons why we think “The Bell Jar” is a timeless masterpiece:
I. Metaphors And Misadventures:
One of the most noteworthy features of Plath’s writing is the cynical, yet poetical, way of penning down her thoughts about the things happening around her. The very title of the book is a metaphor which describes her mind to be stuck inside a bell jar filled with stale air, which is why it becomes hard for her to breathe and function well around people.
“To the person in the Bell Jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”
Throughout the course of the entire story, she uses several metaphors to describe the things happening around her. She uses the metaphor of a fig tree and its branches to describe all the various paths leading to several adventures and misadventures she didn’t take because of her indecisiveness. This metaphor is extremely relatable to all those who are faced with the pressure of making an important decision in their life, while keeping in mind the norms to fit into the society. Esther continues to search for her fig, her purpose in life, but the problem she realizes is that she can only choose one fig or one role to play and she doesn’t know which one she should choose. This stage of confusion, experienced by her, is seen in almost all the teenagers taking their baby steps into adulthood. Very apt and timely metaphors used throughout the story provides a closure to all those struggling on their own in silence.
If these metaphors aren’t going to be depicted well in the screenplay, we are going to be super mad!
II. The Pressure To Excel At All Cost:
One of the most interesting themes discussed in the book is the academic pressure faced by a student. The lead of the story, Esther, is a scholar student coming from a middle class economic background, who is continuously put under the pressure of succeeding in whatever path she chooses. Although, initially, Esther strives hard and keeps doing well at school, she, however, loses all her will to keep going after stumbling upon a rejection from her choice of university. This makes her lose her sense of purpose and she is completely dejected by this failure and even fails to see any career that might interest her anymore. Her train of thought, during her course of failure is extremely relatable and provides an emotional cushion to all those hard working students who have crossed paths, at least once, with failure in their lives.
III. Gender Roles And Feminism:
Some of the other powerful themes discussed in the books are about gender stereotypes and the need for feminism. Esther, continuously, fears the duties and responsibilities that the society expects out of her only because she is a woman and she remains constantly worried that she will become yet another prisoner to these roles.
Esther was brought up saying that men are the arrows that shoot forward towards progress and women on the other hand are the place from which this arrow comes out. She completely disagrees with this notion saying that “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.”
Thus, throwing her powerful words against this society and all the hypocritical, dominant men she encounters who strictly support the notion that the abilities and tasks of women should be restricted to the kitchen and to the bed only. Very often throughout the course of the story, the author raises questions and challenges the very existence of gender roles in our society. This is one of the main reasons why even after 50 years from its publication “The Bell Jar” still serves to inspire women from all walks of life.
IV. Distinct Portrayal Of Mental Disorders:
“The Bell Jar” gives us one of the most plausible and non-pretentious reasons as to why young people suffer from depression. Growing up in this world as a normal teenager filled with dreams and hopes, Esther’s interests towards life goes downhill when these dreams clash with the impending doom of reality. Esther’s own experience with the illness are penned down beautifully by Plath in a raw, painful and vulnerable manner that makes us question some of the chief foundations on which our society is built upon. Her thoughts are numb and disconnected from the worldly pleasures most of the time and the pretentious care she receives from other people only makes her descent even deeper into the bottomless pit of depression.
Very often parallels drawn between Plath’s own experiences with mental illness and Esther’s condition described in the book gives us a stark image of how patients of mental illness were treated back then and even now. Regarded worldwide as one of the best and most insightful depictions of people with mental illness, the Bell Jar not only tells us the thoughts of a person with mental illness but also gives us a wider picture on how they are treated by family members and society alike.
V. Rising Above Is The Key:
Although the book deals with depression and suicide, but as the story proceeds towards its end, it gives us a sense of hope as Esther’s condition slowly starts to improve and she gets back to the remains of her will to move forward. In conclusion, yet another point beautifully conveyed by the story is that whatever hurdle you face, if you continue to believe, this too will pass and you can rise above the odds and become more resilient with time. One of the most underappreciated messages told in the story that needs to be said more often is that regardless of how small others think of your problem, if you think you need help, you get help from the ones you trust and rise above even more stronger.
To quote Plath on this theme: “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
Let’s have our fingers crossed that the movie covers the nuances of all these underlying themes with extreme delicacy and intricacy and does a perfect portrayal of Esther’s experiences with a positive ending.
To read more such articles and book reviews, visit out Books Section today.