Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath~★★★★★

Author: Sylvia Plath
Title: The Bell Jar
Release Date: First released in 1963; this book is the First Perennial Classics edition published in 1999
Publisher: Originally published by Heinemann; this edition published by HarperPerennial
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under---maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic."

Taryn's Review: Depression is scary. Depression is not always explainable, especially to those who haven't suffered from its terrifying grips. The ability to slide into a world that makes no sense but makes absolute sense is mystifying and can be tragic.

Esther Greenwood's conflict with her life's course was rectifiable, but that doesn't matter to depression. Readers who haven't had an encounter with depression might grow angry with Esther for what appeared to be her lack of interest to remedy the situation; other readers might become bored with Esther because she didn't fight for herself. Esther submitted herself to the darkness that smoothly crept in. For those who have dealt with depression personally or with loved ones, the harsh reality of depression outlined in this book can be hard to read.

I was gone from this blog for well over a year, and I wish I could say it was because I was having the time of my life, but that would be a lie. Esther hit a nerve in me, a nerve so raw that I began to tremble as a I read the words on the pages. One might be reading this saying, "Esther didn't get into a writing class..that shouldn't have caused the reaction it did in her!" That's precisely the point. It wasn't the class. The depression was there, as can be seen by Esther's New York experience, and it was triggered to move into a deeper place. For Esther, it was the rejection of the class that was to be her escape from societal expectation and supposed to be the start of the life she'd envisioned for herself that did her in. That rejection coupled with other issues was the moment that tipped off her descent into the deepest, hollowing part of the depression.

The book was semi-autobiographical and Esther closely mirrored Plath's own life. At one point in the book Esther asked, "How did I know that someday - at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere - the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again?" For Plath it descended again in 1963; she was separated from her husband, poet Ted Hughes, as he'd had an affair in 1962. Plath committed suicide on a Sunday morning in London. She died of carbon monoxide poisoning after sealing herself in her kitchen away from her children and turned on the gas her oven; she was found with her head in the oven. Plath's son Nicholas also committed suicide in 2009.

My inclusion of Plath's death is not to disturb you, but to emphasize the existence that the place Esther and Plath and countless others have found themselves in is a very real place. It's a place we often want to brush aside in others; the healthy certainly can say, "But look around, look at all there is to live for!" Sadly, that's not how depression works and Esther is representative of that actuality. Depression can be situational, yet it can also be passed down genetically; either way, it's nothing to brush off. The book is phenomenal, but in a slow, agonizing sort of way and I believe that's how Plath intended it to come across. I could ramble on and on about the themes, the emotions, and societal consciousness in the book, but I prefer to do that in person. Read the book; it's written in a reader-friendly format and while it may not at this moment be relatable to you, I predict (rather sadly) that someday it will have more relevance for you, either from personal or second-hand experiences.

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