In Search of Identity
The BellJjar powerfully narrates the trials of a young girl who initially shows great potential in life. Suddenly she loses all meaning in her life is lost and she struggles with a mental breakdown as she attempts to conduct a suicide several times. At first she wants to become a writer, but then she is not sure anymore. Her relationship with her friends becomes distant as she struggles with her own demons that she must face in order to restore the meaning of her life. The story is a reflection of what is wrong with our society; the mindless and thoughtless subjection of ourselves to pain , love-hate relationships, and the attitude towards other people’s feelings. Themes of love and relationships and hypocrisy are tackled.
The societies have morphed into complex matrices of human interactions and associations that people lose sight of the important things in life (Purcell, p. 1). Many people go through rough patches in their lives and suffer silently wishing that things were different, and questioning why does it happen to them. Family relationships are different, everyone is seemingly busy with other things, and minding their own business. Dostoyevsky (p.16) opines that the aspirations of yesteryears somehow die for most people along their journey of discovering who they really are, and what is their place in society. Sylvia Plath evokes common feelings and experiences that most people undergo as they struggle to find higher meaning and purpose of their lives. This can be reflected in the change of careers while searching for job satisfaction, divorce due to unfulfilling and broken marriages, and shifts in socio-political associations within the world. Each person is busy finding the next job, political party, loving person, family, group to belong to, religious affiliation, and even country to be identified with.
The Bell Jar is a powerful narration that depicts a young lady who suddenly finds herself in a new city with promises of a brighter beginning, hope for a good future. The story tackles the battles that the young lady has to fight as she tries to make the meaning of what she wants to get from life, and what she believes in. Esther Greenwood is the main character in the story through whom the plot unravels. She is an attractive, talented, and lucky girl, who has just completed her junior year of college in Boston. Her father died when Esther was around 9 years old, and she has grown up with her brother and mother. Esther gets a lucky break when she receives an invitation to New York where she would work as a guest editor in a fashion magazine under Jay Cee. She arrives to New York with the other college girls and is treated well with plenty of wine and presents. However, Esther seems to be out of touch towards all that happens around her. She has a sense of foreboding, and her mind is preoccupied with the execution of the Rosenbergs. She neither approves of the wild and unpredictable nature of her friend Doreen nor the accommodationist philosophy of her friend Betsy. Esther suffers food poisoning together with her friends and her instability in moral judgment comes to the fore. Suddenly, she wants to lose virginity to an alien, and she is no longer sure of what does she really want in life (Plath, 25). She gets nearly raped by Marco when they go for a blind date and whether this is what leads to sudden questioning of her ability to settle for a marriage is not clear. She behaves unconventionally to societal expectations and wants to engage in pre-marital affairs with a men she barely knows. Her longtime boyfriend, Buddy has cheated on her, therefore she doesn’t trust him anymore, for what she wants to get back at him. She therefore embarks on a sexual encounter with a person whom she is not in love with because society ignores providing her with the required outlet for a healthy sexual experimentation.
Esther suffers a mental breakdown and on several occasions and attempts to commit suicide. Through Esther we learn of the escapism that resides in all of us when we can’t handle delicate and things deemed to be beyond us. In a sense, she behaves in a selfish way as portrayed through her self-absorption and disassociation from the feelings of others around her.
Buddy Willard, a likeable character, at least from the outside, is Esther’s boyfriend. A medical student who attends an Ivy League college, who was a regular churchgoer, athletic, respected and loved his parents, and was quite good looking. Schmelpfening (p.1) argues that beneath this veneer of perfection, buddy is just an average man with earthly desires like most men of his time. He shamelessly sleeps with a waitress and has no apologies to make. For instance, he confesses after being confronted by Esther that he slept with the waitress because she was young, available and White. He is inconsiderate of Esther’s aspirations and does not understand why she wants to write poetry. He hides behind his mom’s skirt and believes in his mother unequivocally, even in mundane things like underwear. He unquestioningly agrees with his mother on how he should organize his life. Buddy depicts the people who cannot take responsibility for their actions. However, both Esther and Buddy are plagued by illnesses and experiences. While Buddy is recuperating in a sanitarium from tuberculosis, Esther is admitted to a mental institution. They both engage in pre-marital sex with strangers a sign of the dishonesty and untrustworthiness of human beings.
Mrs. Greenwood is an epitome of sobriety, love and family. We get to know her from the protagonist, her daughter. She dearly loves Esther, as she brings her flowers on her birthday, pays the hospital bill and encourages her to pursue her ambitions. She constantly reminds her to maintain high moral standards, keep her virginity and sees a brighter future for her daughter as a mother and wife. Mrs. Greenwood understands family values and though she lost her husband, she loves her children and hopes that they would accomplish what their hearts desires.
Sylvia Plath manages to depict our society’s and its’ myriad’s challenges as people who try to raise families and find footing on unstable social fabric and associations. The Bell Jar is arguably about Sylvia herself; her disappointments, anger, depression, and eventual breakdown and treatment during her teenage years. This story though resonates with many people undergoing numerous challenges in their lives as they struggle to find identity.
The story tackles issues that greatly concern us human beings and our relationship with each other. The BellJjar explores the issue of love in our society. At the begining Esther loves her boyfriend and she has thoughts to someday settle down to have his own family. Her family, too, sticks together although they lost the family head. Buddy respects and loves his parents. But despite all these family bonds, there arises instances of hatred and betrayal among those who love each other. For instance, Buddy sleeps with a waitress while still dating Esther and shows no remorse. Esther wants to lose her virginity to total strangers, and although at first her attempts fail, she finally sleeps with a math professor. She also confesses to her doctor that she hates her mother. All this is a reflection of our societies where moral decadence resides amidst love and family.
Hypocrisy is also depicted in this narrative. Buddy epitomizes this when he sleeps with a waitress, and yet he is dating Esther. He also does not identify with his girlfriend’s passion for writing. Though intelligent and educated, he has conventional ideas about women’s role in society, and they are prejudicial to say the least. He has no feelings for the waitress he slept with, only that she was young and available to him. Joan. too, makes sexual advances towards Esther and yet they are friends.
Male chauvinism is widely tackled in the story. From Buddy, Irwin, to Marco they all view women from the jaundiced lens of dominance. Marco behaves like a psychopath and believes all women are sluts, and when out on a date, he attempts to rape Esther. The math professor is depicted as irresponsible and uncaring despite his intelligence and brilliance. Our societies are majorly patriarchal in nature and male dominance has been somehow accepted as the norm. From politics, education, infrastructure to even family planning, male dominance is palpable. However small in road are being made to give women a chance to have an opinion in what affects are brought to them and the society they live in.
According to Barreca (p. 76), the struggle of one person to attain self identity and meaning should not be lost to the larger populace. As it is, no one can enjoy unlimited happiness while the rest wallow in misery. There cannot be happiness without misery and to suffering and a society’s success and determination is a combination of collective efforts of all its members. To find true identification, one should be prepared to make sacrifices in order to attain collective freedoms; whether these freedoms are economic, social, financial and political in nature. Plath depicts Esther as struggling with the perennial problems of morality, behavior and identity, a price to pay she has to pay.
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