The Bell Jar

We’ll take up where we left off, Ether,” she had said, with her sweet, martyr’s smile. “We’ll act as if all this were a bad dream”
A bad dream.
To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, is one of those novels that I had always heard was so depressing and that the only people who read it are people filled with self loathing or dramatic theater types. But thats not really the point of the book. In the end, it is a book about a young woman struggling with depression in a world that does not understand that depression truly is an illness and not a mood that can be easily cured. That stigma about mental illnesses still exists today and it most certainly did in the early 1960s, when this book was written.

I think that the most interesting part of this book is the interactions that Esther Greenwood, the main character and stand in for Plath, has with the people around her. Her mother, in particular, cannot understand how her seemingly normal daughter became this way. Esther’s mother believes that Esther is inconveniencing her, and that if only she can get the right treatment it will all be like it never happened. To Esther’s mother, it is Esther’s fault that she became depressed and when she is cured she can be accepted back into society again. Even still today, many think of people with mental illnesses as weaker, as if by sheer force of will you can prevent a mental illness from happening.

Esther’s first doctor, even though he is a psychiatrist, also seems to doubt the true depths of a mental illness. He abuses his position of authority, ordering electroconvulsive therapy after only one in person session; not only was it not called for at that early stage, but it was administered poorly. He never gained her trust and she never gained his. This doctor, like her mother, seems to think that if he can just shake her hard enough, she will come out of this mood and realize that she has a good life. Esther’s second doctor, however, talks with Esther about her course of treatment, gains Esther’s trust, and when it is medically appropriate to do so, administers electronconvulsive therapy with Esther’s approval. Esther does not think that she is making progress in the hospital, but learns to trust that Dr. Nolan knows what she is doing.

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