The Bell Jar Essay example

Submitted By killemhood
Words: 2235
Pages: 9

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Rachel Horner

Mrs. Leese
A.P. English 3
January 19, 2012
Word count: 2,084 words
“The Introspective Insight of a First Person Narrative”
Esther Greenwood, the protagonist of Sylvia Plath’s autobiographical fiction,
The Bell
Jar
, is a college student who loves to write and who finds success through scholarships, competitions, and the like. While luck appears to exist as a fairly recurrent staple in Esther’s life at the beginning of the novel, in actuality, her debilitating mental disease infects Esther’s success with traces of torment. Esther refers to her condition as a “bell jar” that entraps her and causes her to see a distorted view of the world. Because the novel is told in first person, this distorted view serves as the means by which the reader learns Esther’s story, helping the reader easily identify with Esther and her eccentricities. Due to the novel’s early 1950’s setting, the reader also gains insight through Esther about the social standards of the time, relating to Esther’s role in society as a woman torn between becoming a career woman or a mother, her only two feasible futures. Additionally,
The Bell Jar’s first person point of view allows its author, Sylvia Plath, to describe her own life, which inevitably mimics Esther’s life in a variety of ways. Throughout the novel, Esther becomes the agent through whom the reader learns about her, her society, and her creator. Horner 2

Esther begins her descent into depression and mental deterioration toward the middle of the novel when she learns that she has not been accepted into a writing program to which she had planned to go for the duration of the summer. The prospect of staying at home all summer with her mother and her peculiar neighbors distresses Esther and causes her depression to swell. As the reader ascertains Esther’s story, he or she discovers just how Esther’s lifelong bell jar looms over her, causing her to constantly feel overpowered by something that does not really exist, further emphasizing the potency of her mental disease. Esther describes her condition, saying that “…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” (Plath 185). If Sylvia Plath had written
The Bell Jar in anything but first person, the reader would never attain the deep knowledge of Esther’s idiosyncrasies that he or she does. The descriptions of Esther’s disease would become weakened through a theoretically omniscient, third person narrator, for who better to describe the difficulties of a mental condition but the patient herself? A poignant example of
Esther detailing her own mental habits occurs in the thirteenth chapter when Esther tries to hang herself using the “silk cord of my mother’s yellow bathrobe” (Plath 158). Esther recounts:
Then I saw that my body had all sorts of little tricks, such as making my hands go limp at the crucial second, which would save it, time and again, whereas if I had the whole say, I would be dead in a flash. I would simply have to ambush it with whatever sense I had left, or it would trap me in its stupid cage for fifty years without any sense at all (Plath
159).
This quotation seems particularly profound, for now the reader learns that in addition to the bell jar, Esther’s body is confining her in ways she cannot control. Esther becomes a victim to

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herself, not only to her disease, but to her body’s natural tendencies toward survival. Linda W.
Wagner, a critic and author of several critical and educational books, expounds upon Plath’s creation of the image of the bell jar by writing:
…Plath has used one key image during the childbirth scene, that of a ‘long, blind, doorless and windowless corridor of pain ... waiting to open up and shut her in again,’ and that image of relentless suffering recurs throughout the second half of
The Bell Jar. It
is,…