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– Sylvia Plath Essay, Research Paper

Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar

Although there are elements of fiction included, and even true events are somewhat altered and rearranged, The Bell Jar is essentially an autobiography of Sylvia Plath, who is recognized for her impeccable and ruthless poetry, which excels at describing the most extreme reaches of Plath s consciousness and passions (from back cover of Rough Magic by Paul Alexander). Perhaps though what Plath is more noted for, and what arguably made her famous on a large scale, is her tormented life of depression and disappointment, that Plath herself ended at the young age of thirty. The time frame that the book refers to, is a period in Plath s life when she underwent a series of experiences that led to her infamous suicide attempt and institution in several mental institutes. Sylvia Plath would not again reach a low point even close to this one until the actual time of her death. In The Bell Jar the main character Esther Greenwood is the parallel to Plath, and all other characters in the story in fact did have their real-life parallels as well, although some of the events are told out of order and there are fictitious events added for a more interesting plot. What is most important about The Bell Jar is Plath s own mentally disturbed perspective of the situations that unfold before her, and this is what makes the book not only a grand piece of literature but also an important insight into depression from a psychological point of view.

In The Bell Jar there are a series of circumstances and events that, combined with her own mentally troubled persona, lead Esther Greenwood into a downward spiral of depression that culminates in a suicide attempt, which brings about the consequence of her institutionalization in several facilities. Eventually it will also be a set of influential people and circumstances as well as her slowly growing healthy outlook on life that lead to her recovery.The beginning of the story finds Esther halfway through her month long experience working for the fashion magazine Mademoiselle, an event that she had awaited for the last year of her life. Esther was currently in a prestigious university on scholarship, and had won the opportunity to work for the magazine for a month out of the summer because of her exceptional writing abilities. She had expected the experience to be glorious and to surpass all her expectations, since this event she had been awaiting for months before, yet it wasn t. One of her great disappointments was actually seeing how the lifestyle she aspired to did not actually live up to her expectations. Esther is particularly disappointed in her fellow prizewinners that also made the job at Mademoiselle. She finds her new acquaintances as well as people in general in New York to be much less than she was expecting and manifests it early on in the book. These girls looked awfully bored to me. I saw them on the roof yawning and painting their nails and trying to keep their Bermudatans, and they seemed bored as hell . Girls like that make me sick. I m so jealous I can t speak It was my first big chance, buthere I was, sitting back and letting it run through my fingers likeso much water. I guess one of my troubles was Doreen (roommate). Aside from her overall negative outlook on people and the lifestyle of New York, there were also particular events that made her stay in the city quite more distasteful and unpleasant. At a dinner given to all the girls at the hotel, there was poisoned crabmeat that was served which made the girls all sick. Esther was the first of about 20 girls who got nauseated and passed out. Her recovery was then dull and lowered her mood and further fueled her dismay with the whole experience. Also, shortly before returning back home, she went out to a party where she was physically assaulted by her date. At this point her depression was evident because of her manner of describing the situation and the lack of care she manifested about the event. She actually did not even attempt to wash off a dirty mark on her face that was left by her abusive date; she found it lightly amusing to leave it that way and also disposed of all her clothes for her return home, borrowing a single outfit (that she would wear for the following weeks) from a friend. And then the month at Mademoiselle was over.For Sylvia Plath, a major cause of frustration and disconcertment was the role that women were supposed to play in society, as far as dating and relationships were concerned. Esther expresses this emotion in scenes of The Bell Jar related to her on and off boyfriend, Buddy Willard. While in New York she has a flashback of when she discovered that Buddy was actually not a virgin, and had cheated on her with a waitress. That men should socially be allowed and even encouraged to sexually experiment while women were held as shameful and horrible for doing the same was a concept and custom that Plath was highly critical of and was frustrated with. Esther was voicing Plath s own thoughts. At first I thought he must have slept with the waitress only the once, but when I asked how many times, just to make sure, he said he couldn t remember but a couple of times a week for the rest of the summer Most boys were like that and you couldn thonestly accuse them of anything until you were married. Later on she would also reminisce about how Buddy contracted tuberculosis and had to be institutionalized. She would go and see a seriously deteriorated Willard whose father even was disgusted with. This would later connect to her own depression caused by seeing her surrounding peers and family so disappointed by her situation and condition. She not only saw Buddy s ugly physical aspects, but also realized that he was in fact jealous of her writing abilities and suffered even something similar to an inferiority complex because of it. Plath described this intimidation of her boyfriends because of her talent and their bitter jealousy of her as commonplace in most of the men she found. Once Esther returned home, disillusioned with her whole experience at Mademoiselle, she found herself faced with more bad news. She had signed up for a writing course that would keep her occupied for the rest of the summer and was not accepted. Esther herself best describes the significance of this occurrence, right after her mother tells her the news. The air punched out of my stomach. All through June the writing course stretched before me like a bright, safe bridge over the dull gulf of the summer. Now I saw it totter and dissolve Esther s not being accepted into the writing course was a major influence on her depression not only because it left her unoccupied but also because it fueled her growing notion that she was a failure. In New York she had felt useless when she realized the true nature of that which she had been aiming up to with all her efforts her whole life; this was an affirmation of her inability to be anything besides a scholarship earner and academic whiz. Instead of things turning better once she arrived home, she made them worse for herself. When her friends called from the course asking when they were to expect her, she informed them that she had not been accepted. They then offered her to come regardless and take some other course but she declined. This was the first big step Esther took towards complete isolation. She ominously says in the book that the minute I hung up I knew I should have said that I would come. After hearing from Buddy that he was falling in love with a nurse at the hospital, Esther goes about life at her hometown, closed inside her room most of the day and unable to sleep most of the night. She makes an attempt to write a novel but because of her state of mind she is unable to do so. This is the ultimate proof to her that she is a complete failure and really has nothing to look forward to or to expect. She also feels that she has disappointed her whole family with her own failure, which in reality is a misconception fed by her depression. Her insomnia leads her to gradually ask for more and more sleeping pills, and in a short time she is referred to a psychiatrist, who after three weeks of useless appointments concludes that she is depressed and recommends her for electroshock treatments. Then what occurs that is caused by the doctor s irresponsibility is what sends Esther into a severe depression and leads to her suicide attempt. The electroshock treatments are administered badly and cause a severe negative impression on her. In fact, the effect of the shock is the complete opposite of what was intended, and she then is irrevocably funneled into a severe depression. After receiving the harmful shock treatments, Esther was completely unable to sleep and stayed in bed all day every day almost. She isolated herself to the point that she started having suicidal thoughts. After some half attempts at killing herself, and a few experiences that emphasized her ill state of mind, Esther reveals a major cause for her depression that has been haunting her all her life. The early death of her father when she was just eight, is briefly mentioned at a key point right before her infamous and almost successful suicide attempt that led her into mental institutes of all kinds. Then I saw my father s gravestone I couldn t understand whyI was crying so hard I laid my face to the smooth face of the marble and howled my loss into the cold salt rain. The climax of the story and ultimate low point for Esther is when she attempts to commit suicide by closing herself in the basement and overdosing on sleeping pills. The reason the real Sylvia Plath survived was because she took so many of the pills that she vomited a great majority of them, if she would have taken less then perhaps she wouldn t have survived. She was discovered after several days of intensive police searching by her grandmother who was going down to wash clothes in the basement. When initially institutionalized, Esther is very much an isolated patient, still keeping away from others and still contemplating suicide. She detests visits, especially from her mother, partially because she hates to see her mother so obviously dismayed and disappointed with her condition. My mother was the worst. She never scolded me, but kept

begging me, with a sorrowful face, to tell her what she had done wrong. She said she was sure the doctors thought she had done something wrong There is another passage from the same scene that shows Esther s state of mind at the time so accurately that it is worth quoting.

That afternoon my mother had brought me the roses. Save them for my funeral I d said. mother s face puckered, and she looked ready to cry. But Esther, don t you remember what day it is today? No

I thought it might be Saint Valentine s day. It s your birthday .

And that was when I had dumped the roses in the wastebasket.

Esther s state of mind was not significantly improving as the days went by, and probably she would have stayed in a mental hospital indefinitely, if it weren t for a major influence that arrived in her life. Already at her third mental institute, after some slight improvement in the eyes of the faculty (not her own), Esther found herself being treated by a doctor who she would come early on to sympathize with, a former graduate from her university who could relate to her experience, Dr. Nolan. She found herself opening up to someone for the first time since her suicide attempt and let the doctor eventually take her to electroshock treatments that this time were properly administered and did in fact help her a great deal. This is evident because, after just a few weeks of the treatments, Esther was ready to leave for home. The story ends with Esther entering the door to a room where she will face a committee that will decide if she is ready to be released. Although Esther does not actually fully recover, she displays a drastic improvement from the time of her attempt at her own life months before. There still remains a note of uncertainty though, that is manifested towards the end of the book itself. How did I know that someday at college, in Europe,

somewhere, anywhere the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn t descend again?

The bell jar , which apparently Sylvia Plath had escaped, would come back to haunt her and would cause her to take her own life at the tender age of thirty, leaving two children behind. Ironically she would become incredibly popular and would achieve great success after a death that was indirectly caused by her disillusion at not being successful. She could never get away. To the person in The Bell Jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream