I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head).
(-from ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ by Sylvia Plath, 1954)
It was 2003. I had several reasons for reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
Girl Interrupted and after reading Paolo Coelho’s Veronika Decides To Die , I wanted to to try The Bell Jar.
Two, I was curious to read Sylvia Plath’s only novel. I was very fond of her as a poet and wondered how her works would be like when she could more freely use letters and words into a big story.
Third and last, The Bell Jar has been constantly compared to JD Salinger’s Catcher and the Rye which is a book I do love. As a fanatic of Holden Caufield, I have developed this sudden urge to read Bell Jar and see if Esther Greenwood could be his female counterpart.
The story of Bell Jar is a first person account of Esther Greenwood. Sylvia Plath herself, her story at 19. Esther, like Sylvia, is a girl who has almost everything she could ask for. She’s an individual with a mind that is above average , extremely sensitive, intellingent and talented . With all of that provided for her, Esther is also struggling with the perennial problems of morality, behavior and identity crisis. The stress and the pressure of being an achiever burns her mind out ; the tension of sexual relations and the double standards on women’s virginity , the ups and downs of family relationships increase her sense of derangement.
Perhaps the best thing about the book is the fact that the life of Esther is synonymous with what the author, Sylvia Plath, had experienced. Like Esther, Plath had gone through a struggling ordeal in finding the real meaning of life and its hidden uncertainties and her eventual fall into the pit of madness.
The book has some similarities with JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye: both Esther and Holden are troubled young souls searching for the true meaning of life and their existence. Both escapes the reality they can’t accept. Both are considered crazy because of their atypicality and fragility.
“For the first time in my life, sitting there in the sound-proof heart of the UN building between Constantin who could play tennis as well as simultaneously interpret and the Russian girl who knew so many idioms I felt dreadfully inadequate. The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.
The one thing I was good at was winning scholarships and prizes, and that era was coming to an end. felt like a racehorse in a world without race-tracks...” (ch. 7)
Other posts about Sylvia Plath on Fly High