I borrowed Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar from the local library. After all, the Indianapolis Public Library is a taxing entity listed on my property tax statement and so I thought I would take advantage of the service since I pay for it anyways.
Before reading this novel, I heard Sylvia Plath was a feminist, angry toward men with hatred of the white man patriarchy and male privilege. I was hesitant of picking up the book to read if it was to bash me for being a white male.
I picked up the novel based on the mental illness aspect of the story and was curious as to how the story played out.
I did not see the ‘angry white feminist’ theme of the story. Maybe she expresses that in her poetry but I didn’t see it in her only novel. Of course, there were criticisms about Buddy, the boyfriend she dumped and a few scenes of bad dates, but there were not harsh denouncements the male gender.
This video points out that Ester Greenwood was overwhelmed by society’s pressure to conform to standard female roles. Since she couldn’t break free from that pressure she turned to suicide. I didn’t see much of that either. Although her mother constantly encouraged her to take shorthand as a means to support herself in the real world. And since Ester did not want to be stuck as a secretary she opted out of the shorthand class her mother offered. But it did not seem to me that Ester was forced to conform to what society expected of her.
In the novel, I read about a frightened female who was lost in society, not pressured by society. The Fig Tree scene is probably the most poignant, where she just can’t choose which way to go, realizing walking down one career path meant sacrificing of other paths.
Maybe I am reading 2021 values into a novel published in 1963.
I took the “Bell Jar” theme to be the what was inside the glass jars Ester saw while touring the laboratory with her soon-to-be-ex boyfriend (if they were boyfriend – girlfriend at all). She saw fetus in various stages of development floating in amber liquid. These undeveloped people seemed to have a profound effect on her as though she didn’t know who she was or what she would development into.
Certainly this story mirrors how most teenage girls (and guys) feel, who haven’t figured out what they want to do in life or who they really are. Even though there are almost sixty years separating the society this book was publish in and today’s 2021 society, I don’t believe Ester’s society held her back from what she wanted to do and be, she just didn’t know what she wanted to do or be.
I’m in my late 50s and I still don’t know what I want to do or who I want to be.