Esther Greenwood ‘was supposed to be the envy of thousands of other college girls’, with a scholarship, intelligence and success on the horizon. However, Esther struggles with her identity, fighting against the pressure of society and her desire to create a mature version of herself. Much of the struggle to carve out an adult identity manifests in Esther’s desire to lose her virginity and her pursuit of men. Plath’s honest depiction of Esther’s struggle for identity in the city mirrors Plath’s own internal struggles. The rawness of the struggle for a female identity in society is inviting, and familiar.
Plath also mirrors her own mental health issues through Esther, making the story almost autobiographical. Plath expertly explores isolation and failed ambition. Esther’s suicide attempts reveal the emptiness that cannot be filled by scholarships, men or the eventual electric shock treatment she receives. The failing of those around her, including her mother and the medical professional tasked with helping Esther, creates a dark atmosphere, excellently handled by Plath.
I enjoy The Bell Jar each time I read it, however, with the relentless themes of isolation and suicide it makes for heavy read and I would not recommend it lightly.
The alienation Esther feels as a young woman in the city is incredibly powerful and, sadly, relatable. There are many lines and passages I enjoy in this novel, however, my favourite line is one at the very start and is so simple yet brilliant it appears on the cover of my copy:
‘I was supposed to be having the time of my life’