Sylvia Plath’s, The Bell Jar


It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. I just finished reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I see now why so many people enjoy contemporary literature instead of earlier works. I was done very quickly and for the most part the read was easy. But it still has not convinced me to give up classics for contemporary works. I believe there is a reason classics have the staying power that it has, and not just because the canon authorities say so. There are some terribly dreadful classics such as Dickens and Thomas Hardy, but the writing is not to be blamed, it is the depressing subjects. The Bell Jar was becoming depressing when she began her descent into manic depression. I was not expecting that even though I know about the author’s suicide. Because even though people like to think The Bell Jar is an autobiographical novel, there are letters and journals that illustrate that it is only loosely related to Plath’s life. I can say the same about the stories I write. I do not know how a person can write anything without at least experiencing an aspect of the topic. From that experience, the author can manipulate the events to form a story.

Plath committed suicide eleven days before I was born. Poor thing, too bad she did not have the insight she had after she had a husband and children before she had them. Here is a very poignant paragraph that I think all young women should read, examine, figure out, and think about in detail before getting married or having children:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.
From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of the them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

I think I read somewhere once that the only place in the Bible that Jesus is known to have destroyed something is when he ordered, requested, etc a fig tree to be removed if it did not produce fruit. No wonder so many Christians are sexists,—-if she is not a mother, she is worthless!

I think what Plath was struggling with is what many women struggle with and it is the patriarchal world of either/or. What man has ever had to choose between family or career? It sounds like a dead horse, but I am really bothered with how women are still scruntized as being good mothers or not, –depending on her minute-by-minute actions and a father can simply send a check every month and society labels him as “good,” even though he never has to do anything else but have that check there each month.


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