Public Pressure In ‘The Bell Jar’ By Sylvia Plath

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

In Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood struggles to decide which career path to take for her future. Because of the pressure placed upon her in society that she inhabits, she experiences a sense of anxiety about her future. As a result, she suffers from her depression and ultimately becomes obsessive about killing herself. In the scene in which Esther envisions her life as a fig tree, she is overwhelmed by many opportunities available for her and panics about her future. The society that Esther lives forces women, including Esther, to pick one path out of many because there is a convention that women cannot pursue both their careers and marriage. Like other women, in the scene, Esther is paralyzed with indecision when she must make an important choice about her future. The scene addresses the theme of gender inequality throughout the depictions of Esther’s concerns. Plath demonstrates the societal convention that makes Esther indecisive about her future, exacerbates her depression, and spurs her desire to kill herself through the analogy of a fig tree.

The fig tree analogy symbolizes a sense of confinement that Esther feels about her future. In the scene, a fig tree represents Esther’s life. She states, “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree.” She juxtaposes between her future with numerous different possibilities open to her and a fig tree branching out from its trunk. Each purple fig represents each possibility for her future. When Esther describes each fig as “a wonderful future beckoned and winked” (77), she seems to be excited to explore her future filled with possibilities. However, these figs overwhelm Esther and make her paralyzed with indecision. She thinks that she “couldn’t quite make out” any of the figs because she “couldn’t make up [her] mind which fig [she] would choose” (77). The societal expectations compel her to choose only one path. The conventions tell Esther that women can choose only one or nothing and that women are expected to please their husbands if they marry. Therefore, Esther believes that marrying someone means relinquishing her dream of writings like as she states, “[she] wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest” (77). Plath elucidates Esther’s feeling of restriction due to the societal expectations placed upon her and that this feeling strengthens Esther’s indecisiveness.

Plath illustrates Esther’s hopelessness through the list of each fig that Esther enumerates. Esther gives the list of choices available for her future in the scene. The first fig is “a husband and a happy home and children.” (77) Another fig is “a famous poet.” (77) Another is “a brilliant professor.” (77) Esther had yearned to marry Buddy and to have a happy home until she realized Buddy’s hypocritical personality and double standardness. Esther also longs to be a writer for a long time. Thus, these options seem to be somewhat realistic possibilities for her. However, while her list continues, it becomes more and more farfetched and unrealistic. She mentions “Constantin and Socrates and Attla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions” (77), which are impossible for her to be. She explains a fig to be “an Olympic lady crew champion” (77), which is also not pragmatic. The lack of feasibility of Esther’s list indicates that she abandons her future in the first place. Esther fails to have hope for her future and becomes negligent to all the possibilities that she has.

Plath creates a hasty, suffocating tone in the scene to suggest Esther’s feeling of urgency and despair. In Esther’s long speech, “One fig was a husband … I couldn’t quite make out” (77) she goes through all of the possibilities within only one sentence. Here Esther does not seem to breathe even at once and keep rattling off. This lengthy sentence offers a sense of urgency that Esther feels. She feels pressing and frustrated being unable to decide, as she states “sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet” (77). This feeling comes from the pressures placed upon her in her society. Consequently, she runs through all the possibilities so quickly that she can not examine each of them deliberately. Not only creating a hasty tone, but the sentence also adds the suffocating tone to the scene. In this sentence, overwhelmed and pressured by the societal conventions, Esther loses timing to take a breath. Like the description of a bell jar, being unable to breath suggests Esther’s inability to control her emotions. The hasty, despairing tone Plath produces in the scene demonstrates that Esther’s indecisiveness and hopelessness deteriorate her mental stability and put her into the worse condition.

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