“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
(First publication: 1963 / This edition: Faber and Faber 2013)
Taken with this quirky flower (if you can call it that?) Mom found near our house
I saw the years of my life spaced along a road in the form of telephone poles, threaded together by wires.
I counted one, two, three…nineteen telephone poles,
and then the wires dangled into space,
and try as I would, I couldn’t see a single pole beyond the nineteenth. (p.118)
Two good friends of mine—a couple—got me this book for my birthday last week. I remember I had seen the girl reading it about 6-7 months ago and I did ask her about it. I don’t remember much about what she said, but she made me curious and I wanted to check it out. I ended up putting it off for so long that came my birthday, they got it for me as a present. 🙂
I read it for about 2 hours on the first night, and then finished the rest the next night. My eyes were sore and I was left with this lump in my throat—just that kind of “hard to breathe” feeling. It’s such a compelling read, though so haunting.
This was my first Sylvia Plath—I’ve never read her poems or anything about her before, so my information on her is still lacking. I just knew she committed suicide with the help of an oven. I also knew that I was in for a “depressing” read.
The story is about this girl who wins an internship in New York City, where she was faced with the “harsher” and “crueler” society, and then her life and plans all kind of unravel and diminish, leading her to depression. The depression is extreme to the point where she has to get shock therapy and ends up trying to commit suicide. It was pretty distressing reading about all the episodes of her trying to find ways to commit suicide.
I feel like I can relate to the main character, Esther, in many ways—we are around the same age and at the same point in life. The feelings of disappointment, hopeless, exhaustion, and failure are all too familiar. Her battle with self-identity as well as her family’s expectations of her “female roles” are all too relatable and such a “timeless” issue—I’m guessing many women nowadays can empathize with her and feel the same burdens crushing them.
While I was reading, I kept wishing I could throw Matt Haig’s “Reasons to Stay Alive” at her to read. Depression is a heavy subject and touches everyone differently—but I was just angry with the way she was dealing with it, I guess. Towards the later parts of the book, her time in the mental hospital reminded me a lot of “Girl, Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen—just the characters she meets in the hospital and all.
I would probably have to re-read this and read more on Sylvia Plath to get a deeper analysis and understanding of the story—as it’s partially based on Plath’s life. I understood more about depression and when it spirals out of control. It’s haunting, and I was cringing very so often which kind of made me “rush” through it, I think—her depression made me re-analyze my own issues and subsequent made me depressed as well. I’m glad I read it as it’s such a classic and it will stay on my mind forever—a warning of how I shouldn’t be. I would recommend it—but maybe if you’re not already too emotional or too depressed right now.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed. (p.56)
I felt like a racehorse in the world without race-tracks or a champion college footballer suddenly confronted by Wall Street and a business suit, his days of glory shrunk to a little gold cup on his mantle with a date engraved on it like the date on a tombstone. (p.72-73)
I see 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 everyone 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. (p.73)
A million years of evolution, […] and what are we? Animals. (p.75)
‘If you love her,’ I said, ‘you’ll love somebody else someday’. (p.104)