My thoughts on The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I recently finished reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. It was on my reading list for Books Intellectual Adults read and I really enjoyed the personal insight I gained from this semi autobiographical novel.

Here is a little summary courtesy of Goodreads: “Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under–maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational–as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.”

This book was mildly depressing. I remember calling my mom once while I was reading it and telling her about how it really made me slightly sad. I felt some of the pain of what Esther was going through.  There were some definite parts of this novel that resonated with me (don’t worry, they aren’t angst-y depressed things). One of them is addressed well with this quote from the book:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. 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.”

Sometimes we trap ourselves with indecision or the inability to select a path to follow.  Think Hamlet and his inability to do anything or make the choices he needs to make. Esther is trapped in this same way, except  in her case she sees all the different ways her life could turn out. And she doesn’t know if she wants to go down any of those paths, but by the time she decides it’s too late, the opportunity has passed her by.

That last quote also starts to address another topic I sometimes feel like I struggle with wanting to separate things and not understanding how to have both, if I even can at all.
“if neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as [heck]. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.”

There are so many things in my life that I want, but feel like I won’t ever be able to have. I want to be able to travel back and live and work in Russia teaching English, I want to be able to go to India, I want to go on a mission for the Church, I want to get married and start a family, I want to explore the world as much as I can while I am single, but I also want to settle down.  You can’t have it all though sometimes.

I’m throwing in this last quote because I think it’s funny. And it’s Spring at BYU, which means all the couples start appearing and coming out from every crevice.
“There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room.”
I feel like this all the time when I come home from work at night to find a couple cuddling on the couch in our kitchen. It happens.

Mostly, one of the sad aspects of The Bell Jar is being a first hand witness to how sadness can consume someone so completely. And it’s true. Wallowing in sadness is sometimes all you want to do when you’re down, but it isn’t going to help. It will only make your sadness seem worse and worse. It’s digging yourself a big pit, and eventually it will make it harder to get out by yourself. Some of the reason though, that this book is so easy to relate to is because there are always going to be times when you feel inadequate compared to another, there will always be times when you are lonely, there will always be times when you feel like you don’t know where or are going or what you will be doing in this life. But what this book demonstrates is that it is important to not let these little inadequacies bring you down. Because if you let them, they will.


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