Sunday, February 6, 2011
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Esther does not understand what she is doing with her life anymore now that she is done with school. Her mother wanted her to learn shorthand, but she was against doing any of the stereotypical female jobs like stenography or even being a mother. In the middle of the novel, Esther has a flashback to when her boyfriend, Buddy, asks her to be his wife. She promptly responds, "I'm never going to get married" (93). She refuses to follow the stereotype, mostly because she is afraid of ever becoming pregnant – a fear caused by her depression.
As her mental state begins to worsen, her mother forcefully encourages her to try seeing a psychiatrist. The first psychiatrist Esther goes to is Dr. Gordon, whom Esther does not trust simply because he is a Good looking man; she feels he is not paying attention to her and her problems. Dr. Gordon quickly diagnoses her with a severe mental illness and wants her to go to the hospital. Esther refuses to ever go see Dr. Gordon again.
After a few half-hearted attempts at suicide, Esther decides that she really does not want to live anymore. She goes down into her cellar and swallows an excessive amount of sleeping pills that had been prescribed to her for insomnia. Someone quickly discovers her, saving Esther's life. Esther is then taken to a new female psychiatrist, Dr. Nolan.
Esther is able to spill out all of her fears to Dr. Nolan, from her distrust of males to her fear of pregnancy and motherhood. Her mental state quickly improves with the help of Dr. Nolan. For once in her life, Esther is not worrying about the future and things she cannot control, saying "I had hoped, at my departure, I would feel sure and knowledgeable about everything that lay ahead - after all, I had been 'analyzed.' Instead, all I could see were question marks" (243).
1. This book was written back in the early '60s, when women we often stereotyped to be housewives. As you can see, Esther greatly feared joining that stereotype. Do you believe women today are still not seen as equals to men? If so, are there any examples of this inequality?
2. If you knew someone who was clinically depressed like Esther, what would you do to help them? Do you think forcing Esther to see a psychiatrist was the right thing for her mother to do, or should she have let Esther choose to do this on her own?