Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar
Title: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath
Publication Date: 1963
Pages: 244
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: It's a classic.
Date Completed: 4/5/2018

Summary: Esther Greenwood seems to have a wonderful life as a young, single woman in the city. Things are, however, slowly unraveling at the seams.

What I Thought: I remember having the option to read this book at one point in a high school English class. I remember several of my classmates who did. We talked briefly about how Plath's journey is mirrored in some ways through this novel, which was published after her own battle with mental illness and suicide. Since that point, I've been intrigued by the book, but never had a particular impetus to finally read it. Having read it now, I'm rather glad I waited until this point. I definitely would not have understood its depths as well when I was a high school student.

When I was looking through my immense TBR list and trying to decide which specific books to select for Roof Beam Reader's challenge this year, I added this one as a whim. It's been on my list for quite a while and it just seemed time. 

The story starts out like countless other novels. Esther Greenwood's life seems charming and, while not perfect, quite satisfactory. As the story progresses, though, the reader becomes increasingly aware that things for Esther are not entirely as they appear. Since she is our narrator, it takes a bit to tease out the details. She spends the second half of the novel being treated in a residential facility for mental illness, including with the controversial electroshock therapy.

Since Plath wrote the book in the mid-twentieth century, our approach to mental illness has changed - although not as much as it still needs to. The stigma surrounding such conditions is lessening. Reading this work with 2018 eyes makes my heart sad. I have to wonder if Esther - or Plath herself - would have had a dramatically different experience had she been placed in our modern era. There is certainly no guarantee of a happier ending for either, but I do wonder. 

I read this book in participation with
Roof Beam Reader's 2018 TBR Pile Challenge.

It's easy to see why this became such a seminal work of literature. It may never had been had Plath not ended her own life, which is sad. Her thoughtful, feminine voice gives life to the quotidian elements of mental health struggles in a way few other authors could. 

Reading this in my 30s certainly gave me a better ability to understand Esther and Plath. While I do not have any sort of diagnosed mental health condition, I can more easily understand the sense of overwhelm, anxiety, and depressions which can be the beginning tugs of mental illness at times. Again, I'm not comparing my experience to that of Plath. I just think that naive, optimistic, high-school me would not have been able to fathom the internal struggles of Esther in the same way. When I read the quote about the fig tree below, I related so strongly to that. Back in high school, the idea of potential pathways dropping away and dying because I waited too long to decide would have been a foreign concept. Today, it feels very much like my day-to-day life. Each path we do choose means rejecting 100 others. I get that now. 

I think I'll return to Plath. The writing is beautiful and poignant and sad. I get the sense that this is one of those books which gives more every time you read it. Those books are precious. 

Quotes I Loved:
  • "The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way. I wanted to dictate my own thrilling letters."
  • "I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."
This book is part of my2018 TBR Challenge!

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yes

A Reduced Review: I'm so glad I didn't read this classic in high school when I first learned of it. I have so much more ability to appreciate its depth and poignant beauty now. 

No comments:

Post a Comment