Concerning “The Bell Jar” : In the Circulating Air

Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had started reading this book months ago, but the fictional life of Esther Greenwood and her slowly decaying mental state was almost too real for me then, too invasive and pressing in and on my own stuggles at the time.

While it was a slight pleasure to be reading text that so greatly resembled my own manic scribblings, it was a sort of masochistic pleasure, like feeding the monster under your bed, bidding it to stay and haunt you. While reading, I would begin feeling a tightness in my chest as I realized I was trying to take on the impossible task of fixing us both, Esther–or Sylvia, really–and myself, when I could not even fix my own life. I would literally start to feel the tight claustrophobia and stagnant frustration of being trapped inside her bell jar as her mind unravelled before my eyes and imagination. I knew (all too well) the weight that the shroud depression drapes over its hostages. So, I told myself I had to stop reading it, for the sake of my own sanity.

“The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air.”

— Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

My life is different now. In rereading–and this time finishing–the book, my outlook of Esther’s life had, to my joy and relief, very much changed. Finishing the book symbolized a milestone and a triumph in my fight against depression, and instead of internalizing Esther’s struggles, taking them on, focusing on the inescapable darkness and inevitable descent of the bell jar, I was able to focus on the causes of her suicide attempt, the deep-seeded issues that grew her hopelessness and apathy, and most importantly, Esther’s talent and potential that was being suffocated and wasted due to her sickness.

I was the outside analyst, not the wounded bird wallowing in self-pity, sinking deeper into her hole.

This time around, I found my thoughts dwelling more on the first half of the book when Esther was still able to pull herself up and search for happiness and a life worth living. That’s where I feel I am now in this fine month of May: searching, trying to make a life for myself.


One thought on “Concerning “The Bell Jar” : In the Circulating Air

  1. I read “The Bell Jar” when I was 16. I both loved it for how well it was written and hated it for what it revealed about me (and the world).

    Now, over 30 years later, I’ve been reading Plath’s early journals for a writing project and am looking to foster dialogue on her life and work. I wrote a brief post today on some of her early perspectives, here –

    I would love for you to check it out as you have the chance and comment if you feel so led.

    Keep up the good reading and writing.

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