Book Review: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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December 22, 2015
Real talk: Are all classics depressing? Two for two and I feel like I'm ready to drink myself into oblivion… and I don't even drink!

I'd been meaning to read this book for about a month now, ever since I heard it mentioned in Aziz Ansari's new show 'Master of None' because the fig tree analogy caught my attention and I thought the rest of the book would go along the same lines, talking about choices and consequences...

In a way, it kinda does? But mostly it doesn't. At all.

What The Bell Jar is about is the coming-of-age story of Esther Greenwood, a young woman from Boston who is reaching the end of her college years and is faced with the fact that soon she will have to make decisions about her future. She knows what comes next: a successful career, marriage, kids… But Esther is overwhelmed. She doesn't know what she wants to be once school is over and the idea of getting married and having kids just because that's what's expected doesn’t appeal to her at all. After spending a month in New York as a guest editor, Esther returns back home confident that she at least won't have to make any decisions until after returning from a summer writing course that she's applied to. But soon she finds out she's been rejected from that course, and thus begins her "descent into madness". 

Though I guess I wouldn't call it madness. What Esther falls into is depression and anxiety because life is full of infinite possibilities, and society constantly puts an incredible amount of pressure on you and on how you're supposed to live that life, and trying to handle all that while also trying to stay happy and true to yourself can be so overwhelming, it could either make or break you.

The real kicker is you have absolutely no control over it, and isn't that fun?

Esther responds by having a mental breakdown and giving up on life. Once she's set upon that idea, there is no talking her out of it. You could see from the beginning how fascinated she was by death, so it didn't come as a surprise that she succumbed to her depression and suicidal thoughts. When you're in a depressive state, everything around you feels like an insurmountable obstacle and that's exactly how Esther sees every problem that comes her way.

At times this book made me feel uneasy in how well I could relate to Esther and her feelings; it felt like I was looking back to a time where I felt lost and hopeless and consumed by a sadness that felt impossible to get rid of. Sylvia Plath does a beautiful job writing about depression in such a real and personal way (it makes me sad to write that, considering her fate); it feels raw and she doesn't hold back, and it affected me so deeply that I couldn't read more than a couple of chapters at a time.

This book also made me realize how lucky I am because that's not my mindset anymore. All the feelings it arose in me were for things that happened in the past, things I got through and over, things that didn't manage to kill me. I never got so down that I wanted to kill myself and I am so thankful for that. I can't even begin to imagine how scary it must be to be so at peace with the idea that ending your life is a better option than fighting for it.

I am so glad I read this book. It's a beautiful book that feels real and relatable, and it's now become one of my most favorite books and one that I will probably re-read countless of times.

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