The Bell Jar

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The Bell Jar as a Controlling Image in The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar contains a constant reference to a bell jar that acts as a controlling image. The bell jar in the novel controls the novel in three ways. It acts as a symbol for the depression that Esther Greenwood, the central character, experiences. It also serves as a metaphor for her. Finally, it is the very illusion that drives her into depression. Esther Greenwood works for a fashion magazine in New York and lives a "dream life" for many girls. She soon realizes that she lacks pleasant emotions and falls into despair. She constantly considers suicide and continually checks in and out of mental clinics. She often feels trapped, as if trapped in a glass jar, unable to escape. Also, she feels like an empty jar because she does not find happiness in life. Finally, she has recurrent thoughts of a "bell jar," which is an item that stands for all wrong in her life. The bell jar, a metaphorical illustration for many entities in the novel, controls the story and Esther's life.

The bell jar represents Esther's despair and mental instability. Esther lost her father at the age of nine and claims to have not experienced true happiness since this incident. As she grows older, the light that burns inside her slowly dims, and she creeps into darkness. Esther hates life and continually attempts suicide. She wanders the house searching for a place to hang herself, but when she cannot find a suitable place, she decides to kill herself by consuming a large amount of sleeping pills. She wakes up in a mental hospital, in dismay to find that she failed in her attempt. Mrs. Guinea, Esther's patron for her fashion job, pays for her hospital bills. Instead of being grateful, Esther feels consumed by her depression and illness and says, " …wherever I sat… I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air"(185). This shows that Esther's illness acts as a bell jar and traps her in stale a...
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