Esther Greenwood in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath wrote the semi autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, in which the main character, Esther, struggles with depression as she attempts to make herself known as a writer in the 1950’s. She is getting the opportunity to apprentice under a well-known fashion magazine editor, but still cannot find true happiness. She crumbles under her depression due to feeling that she doesn’t fit in, and eventually ends up being put into a mental hospital undergoing electroshock therapy. Still, she describes the depth of her depression as “Wherever I sat - on the deck of a ship or at a street a cafe in Paris or Bangkok - I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air” (Plath 178). The pressure to assimilate to society’s standards from her mother, friends, and romantic interests, almost pushes her over the edge and causes her to attempt suicide multiple times throughout her life. Buddy Willard, Esther’s boyfriend at a time, asks her to marry him repeatedly in which she declines. Her mother tries to get her to marry and makes her go to therapy eventually, which leads to the mental hospital. Esther resents the way of settling down and making a family, as well as going out and partying all night. She just wants to work to become a journalist or publisher. Though, part of her longs for these other lives that she imagines livings, if she were a different person or if different things happened in her life. That’s how Elly Higgenbottom came about. Elly is Esther when Esther doesn’t want to be herself to new people. Esther’s story portrays the role of women in society in the 1950’s through Esther’s family and friends pushing her to conform to the gender roles of the time.

Marriage is a factor that weighs heav...

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...g either one.” (Plath 120). Society has come a long way from there, though a margin still contain these views, more and more people are forming feminist ideals. The only if is that if Esther were here today our world would suit her much more comfortably.

Works Cited

Bonds, Diane S. "The Separative Self in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar." Women's Studies 18.1 (May 1990): 49-64. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter and Deborah A. Schmitt. Vol. 111. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 17 Jan. 2014.

Whelan-Stewart, Wendy. "Role-playing the 'feminine' in letters Home." Intertexts 12.1-2 (2008): 129+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 17 Jan. 2014

Winner, Lauren F. "Still under the Bell Jar: What has really changed for women since the fifties?" Books & Culture May 2002: 25+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 17 Jan. 2014.
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