Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Bell Jar

It should perhaps worry me that when I had a bad day a little over a week ago, my response was a craving for a re-read of The Bell Jar. I'll just hope that means I'm wonderfully sane because I wanted to read something about someone having a much worse day than I was to remind myself of how lucky I am!

I liked The Bell Jar when I first read it in high school, but I loved it even more this time. I had forgotten just how beautiful the language is. Plath is wonderful at drawing you into Esther's mind, which is a bit disturbing, but there's something cathartic about it. It's like instead of snapping yourself, you get to experience snapping through the safety of a book and return back to the real world cured.

It surprised me how much I could identify with Esther in the beginning of the novel. I didn't really expect that since what I remembered about her came more from the second half, after she begins going crazy. It's a bit scarier this way, as it makes you feel like we each have this ability to go a bit mad lurking under the surface. I suppose that's why it's such as good book though.

In one scene, Esther pictures a tree with figs, each representing a possible future - wife and mother, editor, Olympian, professor, world traveler. "I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and everyone of them, but choosing meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet." Oh how I have been there. I'm normally a very decisive person, but I went back and forth about my major several times in college and then considering switching careers at various points when I wanted to leave a certain position and couldn't find anything similar. PR, teaching, pursuing my doctorate, marketing, being a librarian, being a freelance writer, packing everything up and running off to Europe and teaching ESL. It's all sounded appealing at some point or the other. I'm happy with the direction I chose, and didn't find myself unable to move forward as Esther does, thankfully. But I definitely understand that feeling of wanting to be able to do everything!

I also think that perhaps my views on childbirth and raising children were greatly influenced by all the reading I did when I was younger. Perhaps reading does corrupt a girl's mind after all. No wonder men used to not want woman to read and learn! :) This book had a rather gross childbirth scene that I'm sure added to my disgust at the whole situation, and Esther has some good quotes about motherhood, although they're quite sad considering Plath was a mother. "So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about numb as a slave in some private, totalitarian state." "If I had to wait on a baby all day, I would go mad." Amen sister. I'm glad other people enjoy that and totally get that they're the normal ones, but just the thought of having a child makes me feel slightly crazy, claustrophobic, panicky. I'm so thankful I live in today's society and can be both married and childless by choice.

Re-reading The Bell Jar reminded me of how enjoyable re-reading is. Like many book bloggers, I've tended to re-read less since I started blogging. I had massive reading lists before blogging, but since then my lists have exploded and it's hard to re-read when there are so many books waiting to be read for the first time. I need to make a point to re-read more often!

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