For last month’s book club, we read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which I had never read but always felt like I should. I’m glad I finally did, even though it depressed the hell out of me. It felt like a necessary read, and also felt super appropriate to read during Women’s History Month.
I find it incredible reading about women’s lives during times when they didn’t have nearly as many rights (not that we don’t still have a helluva long way to go). It really does appear to be a bell jar of sorts, looking in from the outside and especially coming from a futuristic perspective. Life was so limited for women, even in the 50s and 60s, since the idea of the housewife was still very much alive. I seriously cannot imagine being born and raised with the end goal being that I’ll take care of my husband and children and remain in a home all the time—is there anything more depressing than that in itself? It’s no wonder that so many housewives felt trapped and depressed—they were forced into a life of stagnancy and were forced to repress themselves essentially.
As someone who has suffered on and off with depression and anxiety, I found it easy to relate to Esther in The Bell Jar. When I graduated college and moved home with my parents, I felt lost and miserable. My independence was gone, and it was as if the past four years of my life hadn’t happened and I was back in high school again. This almost mirrors what happens to her—she doesn’t receive a scholarship she wanted, and instead has to move back in with her mother. It was especially difficult for her since she came from a poor home where she couldn’t easily afford schooling and education opportunities, so she relied on these various scholarships and programs.
My favorite part about Esther/Plath was just how feminist she was without even being totally aware of it. She refused the idea of the traditional housewife and to learn shorthand, which is what “other women” (like her mother) did, opting instead to follow her passion to become a poet, and also lost interest in men and their imposing ways quickly. Rather than just sulk about the crappy guys in her life, too, she kicked them to the curb without the slightest regret. Yes, girl, YES.
Throughout the book, I was able to empathize with Esther a lot. I understand the downward spiral of depression all too well and how easy it is to be your own worst enemy when all you need is a friend. It was a fantastic, eye-opening read, but not one that I think I’m going to delve into again any time soon.