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...CAN I PLAY WITH MADNESS?
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Member Name: annallon
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Date: 25/08/09, updated on 25/08/09 (157 review reads)
Advantages: Wonderfully written with such fluidity and authencity with her own experiences
Disadvantages: It ended too soon!
The Bell Jar.
This was the only novel that Plath published, which she did under a pseudonym back in the 60's. She was an excellent poet but is largely known for her largely-autobiographical novel.
Her real-life persona in the book is Esther Greenwood; a woman in the 60s who has won a contest and is spending the summer at a New York magazine; she has many inner conflicts within herself, she increasingly finds herself suffocating in a bell jar of depression and cynicism, with a distorted view on the world and being unable to communicate effectively out of the jar. This gets too much for her and she ends up being hospitalised.
The book is intensely emotional as I knew Plath was talking about her own mental issues that she had in this book. She describes the depression as if it was a never-ending pit of cynicism and true despair that only people who have gone through can truly describe it . She didn't try to make it melodramatic in this sense, she portrayed the suicidal thoughts as authentic and very well written, perhaps it was because it was written from her own experiences.
Esther begins to get settled in a day-to-day routine of being in a summer school for the fashion magazine but we soon see the glitz and glamour is losing its novelty, the excitement and enjoyment is gone for Esther as she struggles to find beauty in the fashion world. As the story progresses and we learn more about Esther, we realise she is quite a feminist, it is not entirely clear but there are overtones that she obviously didn't want to tied down by marriage just because she was expected to. She has her own ideas about sexuality; tries to use men before they'd get a chance to use her: She seems to have a rather cynical view on men themselves. She has to make a decision soon and quickly when the magazine summer school ends; she finds herself unable to do that and flings all of her clothes she once saw as special but now regarded them as 'a loved one's ashes' as it flies above the New York skyline. After she returns home; she sinks down further and further in her own insanity as she begins to find everyday tasks unbearable to do and contemplates the best suicide method.
Her imagery of being stuck in a bell jar is absolutely an evocative and powerful image, I can see why she used it as her title. I particularly loved her idea of the figs; how your entire life is represented by a fig tree; the long branches shows the many decisions that you make for the new paths in life, each wonderful fig at the end of each branch representing a wonderful future: a happy marriage with kids, wonderful poet, or a professor. The choice is just which branch do you take? As you take one branch, you'd lose the rest of the figs. Take your time deciding which path to take, the figs will be rotten by the time you get there. Esther finds herself unable to make her choices and the figs start rotting. This is where we see her descent into her own pit of despair.
This isn't a pretentious novel; it is a simply written novel with a style that is very fluid to read, which made it rather captivating to read. Her use of the metaphorical language and extraordinary descriptions to express the imagery of the character's suffocation and descent into madness was very well handled. She provides an important insight into mental illness which was an unknown territory at the time. The first half of the novel is light-hearted with a dash of optimism with the future lies ahead but as Esther is paralysed to make her choices; it suddenly takes on a morbid and cynical style where Plath's writing style shines through, in my opinion. She captures the dark humour in some parts brilliantly where it made me burst out in laughter then the next minute wondering if I should have done that!
Standing at 234 pages, I thought this book was much too short as I wanted to carry on reading!
This novel was beautifully written, using Plath's own troubled and disturbing experiences to describe her feelings during her dark periods of her life has made this book an emotional but yet a captivating read. Plath's take on the character was very well done; showing that any intelligent level-headed person can go insane and there are no indicators of it at all.
Summary: In all, a great book to read.