I’m going to be honest, despite hearing countless references to The Bell Jar and it’s author over the years, I never had any idea what it was about. And so finally, I decided to read it, with all it’s beautiful language and strange meanderings of thought and progress. I found myself both understanding and irritated throughout it, and while I liked reading it, I don’t know if I could have stood if it went on longer than it did. I also don’t understand why this novel and Sylvia Plath’s life has become so romanticized in the modern day, but maybe that’s just me. The life presented in the novel is a struggle of mental instability, and while it is important to read stories like this in an attempt to understand those afflicted, it by no means makes you feel good, nor should it be a mark of aspiration, despite the tragic poetics that may be deciphered from the words of pain.
In any case, The Bell Jar is about a young woman named Esther, who we first meet at a summer internship for a prominent fashion magazine in New York. Esther appears to not be all that interested in the goings on of the big city, or anything at all, really. As she is coming up to her last year of college, she wonders what she will do with herself after her education is complete, only to realize that she has no idea whatsoever: nothing is appealing to Esther, and she starts to just go through the motions of life. Aside from knowing she wants to write poems, Esther shows no real motivation to achieve or work towards anything, despite the fact that she is afraid that the longer life goes on, the fewer options she will have for her future. Inevitably, Esther’s confusion as to what to do and lack of feelings about everything leads to an almost numb and depressive state: she experiences a mental break, after which we see her slow and uneven steps to recovering and coming back to the world that she longs to no longer be a part of.
While reading, I felt some connection to the problems of Esther, regarding not knowing where to go in life with all those opportunities that youth holds, only to see them slip by without you even realizing it. But as she slowly broke and spiralled downward into a cage of psychological unrest, it made me uneasy, and I just wanted to push her and say, “work at getting better, you are only hurting yourself!” Apparently I get frustrated with these things, even though my current course of study at university is in psychology: I should be able to be more understanding, but with this book I was not.
And yet, The Bell Jar still managed to convey to me such a strange and powerful state of mind that I hope to never experience, that I couldn’t help but enjoy it: the meandering and languid language that is used really captures the mindset of Esther, though I may not have always understood her intentions or motivations (or more likely, lack thereof). I kept reading because I was intrigued, however, after it ended, I didn’t feel as though I needed anything more. So I don’t know. I guess I liked The Bell Jar, but I also didn’t. I can’t really explain it (though I hate to say that and come across sounding like our dear, noncommittal Esther).
[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]