The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

This is a story of a young woman, Esther Greenwood’s struggles as she transforms into ‘womanhood’. It starts off with her winning a competition to guest edit for a magazine in New York. It then takes you through her bitter, angry and rebellious life story (or at least that is what I felt).

Esther desperately tries to lose her virginity and is humiliated in the process, returns home from New York with suicidal ideations — exploring different ways of ending her life, and eventually attempting it, failing at it and ending up in a psychiatric facility. She receives shock treatments at the different facilities she’s admitted in, makes a few friends — or merely people whose lives she’s vaguely interested in, and one of those eventually commits suicide. Did I mention the book includes something about death at least once on every page?! There is a boyfriend-turned-ex somewhere in the picture and a math professor she finally loses her virginity to. But she doesn’t seem to connect to anyone on a personal emotional level. Not her mother, not her brother.

I found Esther’s life very empty and unrelatable to. The story seemed to drag on and on, but to no particular destination. The emotions described were very real, as of one writing from experience, but their origin I could not exactly place. They seemed very extreme reactions to minor stimuli. If this book was not drawn from Sylvia’s own personal experiences, I would have struggled finding authenticity in the story. There’s a glimpse of feminism in Esther’s story, but most of her actions seemed like rebellious reactions to worldly systems. Maybe that is what feminism was then.

I have very few good thoughts about this book, save for Esther’s independent mindedness. I definitely admired that! Besides that, I found the story not very well shaped, as though the project was written in a rush. I often found myself confused about the timelines.  I hated the ending…or lack of it! But above all, I hated the fact that the author, Sylvia Plath, commited suicide a few years later. I mean, come on! There was nothing to live for after all that! Maybe I have been spoilt by this idea I have of great book characters, they are supposed to be relatable…Esther is nothing like that! I outrightly hated her! Maybe it is this dislike for her that made me not enjoy the book. Nonetheless, I believe literature is supposed to arouse a certain kind of emotion in us and Sylvia Plath managed to do that in me, even if the emotion is dislike.

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