“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”
The Bell Jar is an unusual novel bottled with every emotion you can think of.
19-year-old Esther Greenwood is brilliant, talented beautiful and extremely self-critical. For a book written in 1963, Esther is a very compelling character. She lives in a society where girls are identified not on their own personalities and talents but in terms of their relationships to men and the society. We learn that she is a blend of a studious student and a fashion conscious girl, an innocent girl and an adventurous one too, because why not?! She is trapped in an inner turmoil and unable to pick a role and settle. Unlike her friends and almost every other girl of that time, she does not want to be classified. She wants to break free and soar.
“I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn’t get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”
We learn about her struggles in her early life that moulded her into who she was. She dates a boy who doesn’t value the things she loves, literature and poetry. This makes her question marriage and the purpose of it. In all her confusion she has nobody to encourage her, but many to restrict her. The story progresses by revealing every human side of Esther. Trapped inside her Bell Jar, she is unable to recognize her true identity. As the iron grip of society chokes her, she eventually suffers a mental breakdown and is subjected to the same forces that make her ill in the first place. As in every such case, her symptoms are treated but the problem is not.
In the 1970s, American literature did not have many female heroines who spoke their mind. That is one of the reasons that made The Bell Jar so popular. Throughout the book, we constantly feel the urge for her to survive. In a time period before women’s liberation and major social movements, Esther Greenwood chose to stand out and question the norms of society. In spite of her illness and other difficulties, she doesn’t come off as a pitiable character, but more of a proud fighter and the story being open-ended; I’d like to think that the Bell Jar has lifted and Esther’s life changed for the better.
“There ought, I thought, to be a ritual for being born twice- patched, retreaded and approved for the road.”
The Bell Jar is the only novel written by the American poet, Sylvia Plath. It is considered by some as partly autobiographical, Esther representing the darker side of Plath described in the most intense way. It is extremely realistic and with her fierce, direct style of writing, emotion bursts forth from every word. It is a complex story told simply, but glazed with poetry,irony, humour and sharpness.
Although it is a great book, I wouldn’t read it twice because I find Sylvia’s style more suited to poetry than prose.
“It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”
My rating for this book- 3.5/5 stars