Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar
Depression and suicide are commonly discussed in today’s society; however, in the 1950s, incidents such as suicidal feelings were not mentioned due to being deemed too risqué. Sylvia Plath is well-known for her poetry, yet her prose is equally as noteworthy. According to Frances McCullough, The Bell Jar is a “pre-drugs, pre-Pill, pre-Women’s Studies” (Plath xiii) novel, which focuses on weighty issues which were not typically discussed during the time period. The semiautobiographical novel deals with depression and suicide, as well as a search for one’s identity, feminism, and rebirth. Therefore, The Bell Jar tackles various issues which were not discussed during the time of its publication.
The novel follows the plight of a young woman, Esther Greenwood, as she begins a downward spiral in her mental health, slipping farther and farther away from reality. She delves deep into a depression, which is directly related to her search for her own identity. When one does not know one’s self, it becomes a struggle to develop relationships with others and succeed in life. Esther does not know who she is and this causes her to sink into a depression, leading to multiple suicide attempts. Esther is in a position in which she should be content, as a guest editor of a women’s magazine; however, she is not satisfied with her position:
I was supposed to be having the time of my life. I was supposed to be the envy of thousands of other college girls just like me…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.)
Therefore, Esther is aware of her situation, but not pleased with it because she has not yet found her place in life, her identity.
Throughout the novel, Esther makes continuous references to the facade known as life. She believes that everyone is striving to be “somebody else,” such as a Hollywood starlet, and no one has a true identity. According to Esther, life is a lot like the movies: fake and superficial. Therefore, Esther does not take on a true identity because she feels that society is not concerned with true identities.
Esther takes on a new persona, Elly Higginbottom, in an attempt to shed herself of her true identity: “My name’s Elly Higginbottom…I come from Chicago’… I didn’t want anything I said or did that night to be associated with me and my real name and coming from Boston” (Plath 11). Esther rids herself of her family roots and true name in an attempt to discover her identity. The pressure from others for her to succeed impacts her so greatly that she wishes to become someone else, someone who no one will know or care if she succeeds or fails with her personal ventures. Although this appealed to Esther, it...