Esther Greenwood Character Analysis in The Bell Jar

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Sylvia Plath’s 1963 novel The Bell Jar remains an autobiographical tale of a teenager who learns that she will never fit in, due to her cynical attitude on life and her slowly fading mental health. Esther Greenwood is introduced as a young woman who appears to be stuck with the wrong type of crowd, as she is an academically sound intellectual. The protagonist appears to be out of place and her life appears to be controlled by outstanding circumstances, “only I wasn’t steering anything, not even myself.” (Plath, 2) The young woman appears to be unhappy with her life, while thousands of other girls would envy her for her ability to spend the summer in New York, All girls would be envious of the clothing she has purchased and the gifts that she has received, but the protagonist does not care for the material items and she wishes to never look at them during her stay in New York. Esther’s purchase of size-seven patent leather shoes, plus a belt and pocketbook to match make the protagonist feel empowered because young women will feel envious, but looking past Esther’s material items, she’s powerless and she has no control over anything in her life. Her final night in New York is spent destroying the clothing and gifts, but she keeps the patent shoes and travels back home to Boston. The shoes are a resemblance of the oppression in Esther’s life, and they symbolize how the protagonist will not conform to the rules of society during the 1950s. Once Esther returns home to Boston, she becomes an empty shell of a woman, brought down by the outer world’s expectations. People expect her to live the all-American dream by becoming a housewife but the protagonist does not give in to the American prospects, but instead she cuts ties to everyone... ... middle of paper ... ...he idea of singularity is clearly there. Esther is singled out, due to her own inability to function normal within American society, while the audience is singled out by the author of “The Applicant”. The poem embodies the oppression, placed on Americans from societal expectations. “Now your head, excuse me, is empty,” (26) explains that as a culture, no one has a brain until it is filled with what society wants from them. “Will you marry it, marry it, marry it?” (40) symbolizes the marriage between oppression and American society. If the reader does not fulfill the needs of society, the reader will be a social outcast, much like Esther Greenwood. Esther’s black patent shoes are representative of a few things in Plath’s novel; the oppression in the protagonist’s life and the materialism, which are both present throughout Plath’s poem and autobiographical novel.

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