A Response to the Bell Jar

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A response to The Bell Jar

You would expect anybody to want the story of depression and suicidal thoughts to leave your memory as soon as the last page was over. However, The Bell Jar is more about the spirit of survival when you are trapped inside yourself and frightened because the rest of the world expects something completely different from you - something you cannot give them. Something you don’t want to give them, if it were your choice. This is a highly auto-biographical account by Plath of a young girl finding that when she should be most excited about her life, she instead finds that things aren't what she expected, and that the culture of the 1950's doesn't seem to allow for all that she wants, which begins her descent into depression.

The Bell Jar is in the form of a Roman à clef, with the main protagonist (Esther Greenwood) succumbing to mental illness. Esther begins the book thinking about the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenburg, and thinking about cadavers, which is a motif that recurs later on in the book. Esther thinks being executed “must be the worst thing in the world” so we can tell already that she isn’t exactly a light-hearted character. Instead, throughout the novel, we discover that she is brutally honest and self deprecating. She wins a fashion writing contest, but she isn’t overly happy about it, viewing the gifts and girls there superficial: “Girls like that make me sick.” She appreciates that she is meant to be “the envy of thousands of other college girls” but her future prospects trouble her: she can either marry, or, become a secretary and then marry. Neither satisfies her. “So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed”, so women in the fifties are meant to want to marry and start a family, and Esther knows this too well. It isn’t considered right to think otherwise, so these opinions stay inside her head. Perhaps, this is why mental illness festers...
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