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Esther Greenwood Character Analysis In The Bell Jar

1004 words - 4 pages

Sylvia Plath’s 1963 novel The Bell Jar remains an autobiographical tale of a teenager who learns that she will never fit in, due to her cynical attitude on life and her slowly fading mental health. Esther Greenwood is introduced as a young woman who appears to be stuck with the wrong type of crowd, as she is an academically sound intellectual. The protagonist appears to be out of place and her life appears to be controlled by outstanding circumstances, “only I wasn’t steering anything, not even myself.” (Plath, 2) The young woman appears to be unhappy with her life, while thousands of other girls would envy her for her ability to spend the summer in New York, All girls would be envious of the clothing she has purchased and the gifts that she has received, but the protagonist does not care for the material items and she wishes to never look at them during her stay in New York. Esther’s purchase of size-seven patent leather shoes, plus a belt and pocketbook to match make the protagonist feel empowered because young women will feel envious, but looking past Esther’s material items, she’s powerless and she has no control over anything in her life. Her final night in New York is spent destroying the clothing and gifts, but she keeps the patent shoes and travels back home to Boston. The shoes are a resemblance of the oppression in Esther’s life, and they symbolize how the protagonist will not conform to the rules of society during the 1950s.
Once Esther returns home to Boston, she becomes an empty shell of a woman, brought down by the outer world’s expectations. People expect her to live the all-American dream by becoming a housewife but the protagonist does not give in to the American prospects, but instead she cuts ties to everyone around her throughout the remainder of the novel including her mother, Buddy, and Irwin. The black patent leather shoes remain with Esther throughout the novel. During the 1950s, patent leather shoes were prominently used for special occasions and throughout each significant event in Esther’s life after New York, the black patent shoes were present. Her first attempt at suicide, the leather shoes become defaced with blood, symbolizing how the protagonist disregards the material items within her life. Esther does not care about what happens to the shoes, as she leaves them on the beach during her second suicide attempt. The final time the shoes make an appearance in the novel, the leather is cracked and worn, and soaked with blood after Esther loses her virginity. The material item once envied for their looks, is now defaced with blood and no longer a product of envy, much like Esther Greenwood, who is now a woman with a defaced past and a slowly fading mental stability.
The shoes juxtapose Esther’s life over the six months The Bell Jar, going from New York to Boston. In the beginning, they are brand-new, no cracks and brand new from Bloomingdale’s. As they continue through the novel, they...

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