29 April 2014
THE MYSTERIOUS DARKNESS:
THE REASON WHY ESTHER GREENWOOD CAN’T “BE NORMAL”
Normalcy is defined in the dictionary as the condition of being normal; the state of being usual, typical, or expected. The character of Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath penetrates the boundaries of being normal. Esther’s story is more than the pursuit for sexual freedom that many claim it to be. Her story is a silent call for help. But why does Esther need help? There is evidence to support the theory that she was mentally unstable and had social anxiety that caused her to be incapable of adapting to the life situations to which she was dealt. Esther was expected to conform to the societal norms of her time, and did not know how to “be normal.” Her mysterious and dark mental illnesses kept Esther from properly coping with everyday stressors.
Plath places the main protagonist, Esther, into an oppressive societal environment that provides very little opportunity for her to become who she wants to be. This forces her to fight off the ascending madness and isolation from the world that is attempting to trap her mind in a bell jar. The significance of the bell jar is that anything that is underneath is sealed off from the rest of the world and is trapped. Forced to remain confined, stewing in sour air, until something or someone comes along and breaks it free.
The setting for The Bell Jar is from June 1953 to January 1954. It is accepted that Plath wrote this book as an autobiographical novel because, surprisingly, the dates and events of the novel directly coincide with Plath’s life events (“Sylvia Plath”). This novel is Plath’s way of explaining the decent of her own bell jar and struggles with the mysterious darkness. We will never be completely sure the intentions Plath had, because she succumbed to her darkness and committed suicide in 1963 shortly before her The Bell Jar was printed under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas.
Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar is a young, lower-class, suburban nineteen-year-old student. She received straight A’s her entire educational career, as well as, been awarded many scholarships and grants. She always stayed focused on school and considered herself an over-achiever. In the summer between her junior and senior year of college, Esther went to New York City with eleven other young women. They had all been selected for their writing contributions to a fashion magazine, and were being wined, dined and pampered as a prize.
However, the novel does not open on how fantastic an opportunity this is for the women, but Plath instead opens it by talking about the electrocution of the Rosenbergs. This sets a melancholy, depressed and strangely inquisitive tone that is immediately picked up on by the reader. Esther even talks about what it would feel like “being burned alive all along your nerves” (Plath 1). Esther’s obsession with the electrocution is important to her story because it foreshadows the impending “death” of her control of the darkness. While in the mental institution, Esther receives electroshock therapy and finally learns what it feels like to be burned all along your nerves.
Within the first three pages, we discover Esther’s deeply harbored concerns that she is not like everybody else in the sense that she couldn’t react to exciting physical or emotional stimulations. She knows that she should be grateful of the experiences provided to her, but she felt like her life was being steered for her, and she had no say. Esther speaks of her experiences, “I was supposed to be having the time of my life. I was supposed to be the envy of thousands of other college girls. Only I wasn’t seeing anything, not even myself” (2). This illustrates Esther’s disconnect from how society sees her life and how she has experienced it. This is Esther’s first admittance that she’s different than others and it comes as a sort of “shock” to her.
Esther can’t help