a little east of reality

Monday, July 11, 2005

sylvia plath

I finished The Bell Jar today. I'd heard that Sylvia Plath, or at least her poetry, was pretty dark, so when I spotted this book with its vaguely familiar title, I sat in Canty's comfy armchair for about 20min, reading to see if it was also dark. No...quite light and interesting, a little quirky even. So I bought it and took it home...and then discovered that it is a rather dark tale after all.

In the first part of the book Esther is a young, talented student, in New York on a month's work experience at a fashion magazine and starting to question the career plan she had previously laid out before herself. She is also in the midst of an unsatisfying relationship, and thinks a lot over men and women. It's very interesting to read about such basic topics - work, love, sex, human relationships, from a woman writing in the 1960s. Though Plath is unusually honest for her time, there is also so much that is well-known or common now that was not common knowledge, or not spoken about, in the 60s.

Then the book takes a sharp turn, and the fact that her fears and insecurities have been slowly overwhelming her becomes clear. Suddenly the fact that Esther could not stop crying over the electric chair execution of two criminals and other sad aspects of the world becomes terribly relevent. On page 121, she can't sleep. By page 138 she is experiencing shock treatment for the first time at the hands of a real bastard of a doctor. For about the next 40 pages she tries to figure out how to kill herself, and makes at least one pretty good attempt at it with sleeping pills. From there the book gets intensely interesting. It's then that she not only gets a good psychiatrist, but also really starts to be able to understand, or at least articulate, her depression.

By the end of the book Esther has escaped 'the bell jar' - the way she describes the feeling depression gives her of being shut off from the rest of the world, unable to feel or express emotion, untouched by the world outside the jar - but is wondering if one day it will descend on her again. Given that Plath committed suicide, I guess the answer, for Sylvia if not for Esther, was 'yes'.