It seemed like a piece of cake.
I read The Bell Jar for the first time exactly a year ago. I don't remember how I discovered it, or what drew me to it, I just remember it being one of the most interesting reading experiences.
I wrote a review for it on here immediately after I finished it, back when I was still only beginning to process what the book was really about and what effect it had actually had on me.
As I was reading through it a second time for my project, I thought about my previous review and cringed. There was so much more that needed to be said, especially now that I have gone through it again and have taken the time to analyze the story a bit more.
“because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.” ― Sylvia Plath,The title of the book, The Bell Jar, comes from the way Esther describes what it is like to struggle with Depression. She says it is like being trapped inside a bell jar. When you take into account the fact that Sylvia Plath drew a lot from her own life experiences in the crafting of the story, it makes the suffocating feeling of being in the bell jar seem even more real.
Sylvia Plath is well known for her hard life and her untimely death by suicide, and is also famous for her very unsettling, haunting, yet captivating, style of writing. She uses Esther as a sort of personification of her own struggles, thoughts, and emotions, illustrating the way she sees the world through the voice of a character. It is difficult to imagine what dark things must have been going through Sylvia’s own mind while she was writing this book.
At the beginning, Esther is depicted as a pretty, young, successful college girl who, from the surface, seems to be living a close to perfect life. She is given a chance to stay in New York on a scholarship, complete with an internship and extravagant luncheons and parties to attend, and a nice, upstanding, young man waiting to marry her whenever she is ready. But, despite all of that, it is during this trip to New York that she begins to show early signs of Depression. She begins to feel like her life is completely worthless and insignificant, and she becomes even more discouraged by the fact that she is still unsure about what exactly she wants to do with her life.
“I just bumped from my hotel to work and to parties and from parties to my hotel and back to work like a numb trolleybus.” –Sylvia Plath, The Bell JarIt isn’t until about half way through the book, when she returns back to her home in Massachusetts, with all her experiences from New York hanging over her head, that she completely spirals out of control. She begins to show all of the severe symptoms of Depression.
Her feelings of worthlessness worsen when she learns that she was rejected by a writing program that she had applied for. She is forced to live with her mother, whom she has a shaky relationship with, and falls deeper and deeper into her dark Depression. She stops taking care of herself, refusing to wash her hair or clothes:
“The reason I hadn’t washed my clothes or my hair was because it seemed so silly.” –Sylvia Plath, The Bell JarShe is unable to sleep for weeks on end, and begins an unsettling romance with the thought of death:
“The thought that I might kill myself formed in my mind coolly as a tree or a flower.”– Sylvia Plath, The Bell JarShe is constantly contemplating ways in which she can kill herself throughout her narrative of the book. She also loses all her ability and interest in doing the things she used to love, like her reading and writing, and doesn’t even feel like leaving her house.
Reading this book is never an easy experience, nevertheless, it is written in such a beautiful, yet eerie way. It is the type of book that lingers in your mind long after you have finished the last page, and, most importantly, it is a book that makes you think.
I have seen so many people toss the word Depression around so lightly. You see emotional teenage girls on social media talking about how "depressed" they are after a breakup or when someone unfollows them on Twitter, and it disturbs me. True Depression is a very complex, tricky thing that many people don't really understand these days.
I am a person who has never experienced major Depression, and I have absolutely no idea what I would do if I were put in Esther's situation, but Sylvia Plath is able to describe in such disturbing detail, and I believe that anyone who would pick up this book would be able to relate to and understand Esther in some way. This short book delivers a strong and powerful testament to what really goes through the mind of someone who is struggling with Depression.