A time of individuality and rebellion made a mark in the world of literature, and modernist writers weren’t afraid to break away from the norm. The Bell Jar, written by Sylvia Plath, is an outstanding novel which depicts the modernist era as a whole. Sylvia Plath takes her readers through the mind of a young girl in her twenties, Esther, whose stability and sanity slowly start to slip away. Esther’s trouble starts within her mind but become magnified when external factors start to interfere.She disconnects herself from society and as her mind regresses; her hope of reaching sanity starts to diminish as well.
Throughout the novel, Esther struggles with finding herself in a society filled with uncertainty. Sylvia Plath was able to create the perfect character to reveal her attitude towards new modernist view through her literary techniques, symbolism, and was able to intertwine reality with lunacy, creating the perfect modernist piece of literature. The modern era was composed of many elements in which authors incorporated a variety of literary techniques.The use of stream of consciousness, juxtaposition of ideas, staccato sentences, and symbolism was what led the modern era to success. The shifting outlook authors had during this era was like a chain reaction, and writers began to utilize these techniques to create a novel which was considered to be taboo. Sylvia Plath uses many symbols throughout The Bell Jar to represent various intangible concepts. Esther often feels disconnected from the real world and feels trapped in a bell jar, where her outlook on life is distorted.A bell jar is an airless container often used to exhibit objects dealing with science; this jar represents Esther’s insanity.
Once she feels she is released from the bell jar, she has a sense of freedom, yet she can still feel it hovering over her, ready to suck her back into her own insanity. Esther also often refers to a fig tree when talking about her life. All her options represent figs, but she must only pick one.
“I saw 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 every on of them, but choosing one meant loosing 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” (Plath 77). She is fearful of picking just one because then all the other figs will fall to the ground, meaning her other options will vanish.
With her indecisiveness, her figs rot and she looses everything. Sigmund Freud’s coming of age theme is displayed throughout The Bell Jar, with an intricate twist of madness.Esther’s accomplishments such as a successful college life, a marriage proposal, and a New York experience, is seen as a set back rather then a heroic achievement. Her coming of age experience develops into insanity and her progression into adulthood begins to decline. After seeing a psychiatrist, Esther feels lost, and begins a search to find her own cure. “I would simply have to ambush it with whatever sense I had left, or it would trap me in its stupid cage for fifty years without any sense at all.
And when people found out my mind had gone, as they would have to, sooner or later, in spite of my mother’s guarded tongue, they would persuade her to put me into an asylum where I could be cured. Only my case was incurable” (159) Her incurable mental state only leads to thoughts of suicide and they become more frequent as the novel continues on. Seen as somewhat noble, Esther believes it is better to end her life now, rather then live a fake one. The second psychiatrist she visits, Dr. Nolan, impacts her life the most.Esther never had a true mother figure, and Dr.
Noble is able to fill that spot, temporarily. She is the only one Esther truly trusts and they form what Sigmund Feud calls a “transference” relationship. Esther transfers the feelings she should have had for mother, onto her psychiatrist.
This was huge step in her healing process and enables her to look deeper into her relationship with her actual mother, while still feeling safe. Her coming of age process is achieved through regaining her sanity, rather then her worldly accomplishments.The modernist era was an individualistic and rebellious time period, and Sylvia Plath was able to speak of topics, which were rarely discussed back then, and publish it for thousands of readers to indulge on. Suicide and rape, both serious cases, were the main issues discussed in The Bell Jar. Esther has several encounters with men, but never chooses to actually sleep with them. Meeting a boy named Marco; she thinks this would be the perfect time to loose her virginity. However, almost getting raped, she backs out and feels a sudden sense of insecurity.
As her mental state worsens, suicide crosses her mind numerous times.Esther’s belief is that the only way she can be at peace is to kill herself because that will take her mind as well. She is willing to go through the physical pain, to stop the mental. The reader questions Esther’s seriousness towards this issue though because she often finds minute excuses as to why she must back out. At last, Esther finds a way to commit suicide without having her body fight back. “At first nothing happened, but as I approached the bottom of the bottle, red and blue lights began to flash before my eyes. The bottle slid from my fingers and I lay down” (169).
Her body shut down which enabled her mind to shut down as well, just like she wanted to all along. The idealistic views and traditional storyline was soon to be challenged by modernist writers, who were looking for a new outlook on society, as well trying to make a stand for their opinion. Sylvia Plath is able to portray this through Esther, who struggles between the typical 1950’s girl and an individualist lifestyle. It mirrors the modernist era as well because just as modernist writers were fixed between mainstream and breaking loose, Esther’s caught between a conventional life and a life she has dreamt of since she was young.
It would mean getting up at seven and cooking him eggs and bacon and toast and coffee and dawdling about in my night gown and curler after he’d left for work to wash up the dirty plates and make the bed, and then when he came home after a lively, fascinating day he’d expect a big dinner, and I’d spend the evening washing up even more dirty plates till I fell into bed utterly exhausted” (84). Esther’s outlook of a stay at home mom did not appeal to her much, and she felt marriage was not for her. While being pulled in two different directions, it causes mixed feelings and confusion.
Her world seems to be clashing because she feels the need to run her own life, rather than have someone beside her guiding her. She expresses this idea when saying, “The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way. I wanted to dictate my own thrilling letters” (76). Sylvia Plath demonstrates Esther’s desire for independence and an individualistic lifestyle, just as modern writers aspired toward. Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar, is a satisfying, yet disturbing novel, which is a representation of the modern era. The modernist movement was unique in that it differed from any other literary movement.It made a clean break from customary concepts for the first time and set a completely different tone. Sylvia Plath used modernist characters who felt the need to be an individualist despite the pressure of conformity in the world around them.
Sylvia Plath makes the madness and chaos instilled in Esther’s head seem so real and enables the reader to see how insanity leads to corruption. The unmentionable and unthinkable became untamable, and a mass number of books were published with themes and characters which were not considered mainstream. What was once insane, was now considered sane.