Symbolism Within The Bell Jar Novel

2181 words - 9 pages

Sylvia Plath’s novel, “The Bell Jar”, tells a story of a young woman’s descent into mental illness. Esther Greenwood, a 19 year old girl, struggles to find meaning within her life as she sees a distorted version of the world. In Plath’s novel, different elements and themes of symbolism are used to explain the mental downfall of the book’s main character and narrator such as cutting her off from others, forcing her to delve further into her own mind, and casting an air of negativity around her. Plath uses images of rotting fig trees and veils of mist to convey the desperation she feels when confronted with issues of her future. Esther Greenwood feels that she is trapped under a bell jar, which distorts her view of the world around her.
Symbolism, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities,” is one of the major literary devices used throughout “The Bell Jar”. Symbolism is used to create different layers and present new aspects by expanding upon a single idea throughout the book. Sylvia Plath uses the symbol of the bell jar to show how Esther’s perspective is skewed due to the fact that she feels “trapped” under a bell jar. For Esther, the bell jar does nothing but terrify her. She knows that she has become separate and cast off from the rest of the world. The bell jar forces her to become someone she is not.
While in pursuit of a career in writing or poetry in New York City, she is diagnosed with severe, manic depression, which marks the beginning of the descent of the bell jar. After her internship ends, she attempts to commit suicide multiple times. The bell jar already begins to control her, symbolizing a tyrant in her mind. She feels horrified of what she is slowly turning into, so she resorts to desperate measures. After consuming fifty pills, due to her lack of sleep, she hides in a crawl space in her basement. Three days later, she is found and placed in a mental hospital. First assigned to a rich psychiatrist named Dr. Gordon, Esther feels harassed by the doctors surrounding her. She feels that they do not really care about her; in a sense, they don’t. After seeing Esther three times, he states that she is not improving due to the fact that she has not been able to sleep, read, eat, or write in three weeks. She is moved to his mental asylum, where she suffers through electroshock therapy for the first time. The procedure is done incorrectly and she is shocked, literally.
Because the method was not implemented correctly, Esther is awake the whole time, feeling the electricity course through her. As her condition worsens, she is placed in a privately funded asylum. She once again undergoes electroshock therapy, but this time it is done correctly, lifting the bell jar off of her. She states that it hangs a few feet above her head. Being under the bell jar is a terrifying experience for Esther. It renders her useless of her greatest skill, writing. It makes her hate essentially everyone...

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