Yes, she’s rather morbid. Yes, she had “issues”. Yes, she eventually killed herself. But I think it was that internal struggle she was dealing with that made her writing so freely profound, poetic and yet harsh. She had a way of wording things and of looking at life in a way that was beautiful in the same sense as a deadly storm.
I started read The Bell Jar at the beginning of the year. It wasn’t until I was recently inspired to read an entire list of “life changing” books that I found online, as well as books on the histories of religions, that I decided it was time to finish up some books I had forgotten I’d started. I’m kind of surprised I stopped reading The Bell Jar midway – I think it was due to finals and me leaving the country. But, either way, I finished the rest of it in essentially one sitting. I feel like there is a lot to take away from it.
The whole “bell jar” bit didn’t make too much sense to me until, somewhere in the middle of the story, Plath drops the words “…because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”
I thought, WOW. THAT is what the bell jar is. The bell jar is what we pull over ourselves. We live in this little world of our own, yet we can let our own negativity suffocate us if we don’t lift that jar every once in a while. No matter where we go, we carry that emotional baggage with us, a kind of baggage that no change of scenery will alter enough for us to completely forget if we don’t cause some kind of resolution or absolution within ourselves.
I began to think of my own bell jar and what I feel like inside it. It feels terrible a lot. Too often, in fact. But that’s why I bury myself in sports, arts, books, cooking, dance, and especially travel… It’s like my way of lifting that jar a little bit every once in a while, like a small distraction. But that jar never totally disappears.
DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT IN LIFE
I feel that jar heaviest when others affect me. I have the tendency to go out of my way too much for other people just to feel useful and have worth. I don’t expect anything in return. But when I get stood up or let down, I think it hurts twice to thrice as much.
“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”
Wise words. I should listen to that.
I’ve come to realize I’m never disappointed when I expect someone to back out, no matter how much they swear they’ve committed. I just shrug it off. But that’s hard to accept all of the time, to expect disappointment. I love the anticipation of something. It’s what makes the days happier. Why ruin that with expectations of letdown? (“I couldn’t see the point of getting up. I had nothing to look forward to.”) It just makes one feel inadequate. (“The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.”) And Plath’s character continues to struggle under her bell jar for a long, long, long part of the story.
GETTING OUT OF YOUR BELL JAR
“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”
Yet the whole story isn’t just about depressing thoughts (although, some of them really make you think, like when Plath wonders if the most beautiful thing in the world is actually shadow). In reality, Plath’s bell jar sealed shut just after the publication of The Bell Jar. Esther Greenwood, however, the narrator of the story,… she finally flings off her jar and takes a deep breath.
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.'”
If that isn’t testament to how the best medicine for anything is just a breath of nature and the world, then I don’t know what is.
ACCEPTING BETTER LOVE
Finally, one of the quotes from Plath in general that I recently shared on Facebook (and which received a lot of applaud) is one about love. I often think about how lousy we can get it when it comes to friendships or relationships, and why is that? And my answer always come back to The Perks of Being a Wallflower: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Not to mix up authors and stories here, but I think that is true. And I find it particularly interesting to take that notion and juxtapose it with Plath’s quote. Plath seems to be quite the self-loathing person with little value in herself, should you base her personality off of her writing style, yet she shows strength enough to reject men who don’t strike her very specific fancy. Here is the quote I adore so much:
“Yes, I was infatuated with you: I am still. No one has ever heightened such a keen capacity of physical sensation in me. I cut you out because I couldn’t stand being a passing fancy. Before I give my body, I must give my thoughts, my mind, my dreams. And you weren’t having any of those.”
In the words of my mother-aged peer, “What a wise, tragic woman who said that.”