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Sylvia Plath, one of the most admired poets of the 20th century, used multiple anecdotes of her tempestuous life throughout her writing.
To begin with, Plath often wrote about the violence and depression she dealt with. Many would say Plath was a victim of her times when she took her own life shortly after her first novel “The Bell Jar” was published. The theme of her novel was a mix between the standards of a woman’s life and mental illness.
Sylvia was a very anguished woman that often found herself not being able to control her feelings. She opened up when writing “The Bell Jar” being completely honest with how she felt about everything and everyone. Her whole life’s story wasn’t contained in that one novel, she also wrote poetry. One of her poems was written about her late father. Her father’s passing inspired Plath to write her first poem “Daddy” and was also one of the many reasons Plath went into a downward spiral.
“The publication of Ariel, the volume of poetry Plath completed a week before she committed suicide precipitated a uniquely intense critical reaction.” (Poetry For Students Volume 15) Many people are drawn to Plath’s work because reading about her death is intriguing. In fact, most of Plath’s work foreshadows her suicide. Plath intended to write about her own experiences, not to turn her novel into an autobiography but more so a documentation. Biographer Lynda Bundtzen said “the circumstances of her death have been crucial in shaping response to her work and in contributing in the overall estimate of her imagination as morbidly attracted to death.
” (Blooms Literature, “How to write about Sylvia Plath” Kimberly Crowley). Plath expected something to come out of her writing and death. Plath wanted her experiences to make her message more realistic and relatable to the reader which she achieved. “The Bell Jar” was not meant to sound like a tragic suicide story, but the story of how Plath lived. “People often do not recognize that Plath is not merely recounting her life but is usually offering serious commentary on issues that are important to her.” (Bloom’s literature, “How to write about Sylvia Plath” Kimberly Crowley). Plath wasn’t writing only to become rich and famous, she also wanted to put her story out into the world for people to read and to enjoy. Plath’s first and only novel “The Bell Jar” was set in the 1950’s in New York. Esther Greenwood, the protagonist and narrator of the story, was given the opportunity to work as a guest editor for a magazine in New York along with eleven other women for one month. The women each stayed in rooms in an all women’s hotel and were showered with gifts while at their stay. Ether should of been having the time of her life while in New York, but for some reason felt deadened. She knew there was no reason to feel the way she did because there were so many fun things she could be doing. She just felt empty inside. Esther made two close friends while in new York. Their names were Betsy and Doreen. Doreen was Esther’s roommate whom Esther adored. Esther envied the way Doreen handled social situations but came to appreciate Doreen’s rebellious personality. The first week of Esther’s stay at the hotel all the girls got food poisoning, including her, from some bad crab they ate at a fancy banquet. Doreen was the only one that didn’t get sick because she didn’t attend the luncheon. Doreen proved she was a true friend when she brought Esther soup and comforted her while she was sick. Soon after Esther got better, an old flame came to New York to see her. His name was Buddy Willard and was very fond of Esther. He was everything a woman could have asked for in a man. Handsome, gentle, kind and very intelligent. He was practicing to become a doctor back in Esther’s hometown. Buddy came with the intention of marrying Esther but instead left empty handed. She liked Buddy but didn’t like the idea of settling down with a man this early in her life. Esther found out Buddy had slept with a waitress many times and realized that he wasn’t as pure as she thought he was. Things didn’t work out between Esther and Buddy because she didn’t want to be tied down to a house with kids where she would have to cook and clean every day. Esther was a very independent woman that wanted more for herself than just being a wife and mother. Shortly after Buddy left, Esther attempted to lose her virginity in New York because she wouldn’t have to worry about marrying a man as pure as her. On the girl’s last night in New York Doreen took Esther out. Doreen unknowingly left Esther alone with a rich man named Marco that hated all women and had no respect for them. He attempted to rape Esther but she managed to escape and went back to the hotel. The month in New York came to and end, and it was time for Esther to go spend the rest of summer at home. The only reason she was looking forward to going home was because she applied to attend a writing school, but unfortunately didn’t make it in. Esther was not pleased with the pointless life she felt like she was living. With all the time she had in the summer, Esther started thinking about the death of her father and how she didn’t have a good job or a nice life ahead of her. Esther stopped talking, bathing and even eating. Her mother was worried about her so she took Esther to a clinic in town to visit a doctor. Doctor Gordon, the man Esther sees as conceited and feels she can’t trust, administered her first set of shock therapy. He didn’t know how to help Esther and actually made her worse. Esther became even more unstable after the shock therapy and made multiple attempts to kill herself but failed at every one. Her mother then realized she had no other choice but to send Esther to a psychological ward in the city. After being admitted into the ward, it only made Esther want to kill herself even more. She received multiple treatments of shock therapy and each one made her go a little bit more crazy. Eventually Esther got admitted into a private hospital where she actually liked her doctors and began to do much better. She even made a friend named Joan that was dealing with a few of the same problems Esther was. Esther got better and was released to go back home with her mother. “Since this novel is so autobiographical in nature, it is hard to separate Plath from Esther Greenwood and to not think about the other characters as people in her actual life.” (Bloom’s Literature, “How to Write about The Bell Jar” Kimberly Crowley)
In addition to, the theme of Plath’s novel was that the bell jar represents Plath’s suffocation by the unavoidable depression she was dealing with. “As the time of her suicide came closer, words expressing positive emotions became more frequent, while words concerned with causation and insight became less frequent.” (Gale “A text analysis of the poems of Sylvia Plath” David Lester) Throughout the novel she talks about how when the bell jar is lifted, she recognizes moments of clarity. Plath’s novel symbolizes mental illness and how she feels like there is no way out of her suffering even though others can’t seem to understand her feelings. “Though she can see through the transparent glass to the world beyond, the glass jar distorts the image of the world, leaving the suffering viewer with a warped understanding of reality.” (Literary Reference Center, “The Bell Jar” Victoria Lucas). “Wherever I sat- on the desk of a ship or a street cafe- I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.” (The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath) Plath felt like no one around her understood how she was feeling on the inside, therefore leading to her loneliness.
In short, Sylvia Plath put her story out into the world and in return became one of the most famous poets in the 20th century.
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