Analysis of Esther in Bell jar
How effectively does Plath represent Esther’s ‘Mind under stress’ through her New York experiences?
Plath presents to us a young woman going through a difficult time of an unstable mental health alongside with the burden of a perfect educational record during the mid nineties in the novel ‘The Bell Jar’. Esther’s ‘mind under stress’ is highlighted throughout the novel by Plath through her various experiences in New York and her narration of them.
In her evening out with Doreen, Plath brings forward Esther’s difficulty with socialising to the reader. Esther uses a fake identity, calling herself ‘Elly Higginbottom’ and finds herself feeling ‘safer’ here we see her insecurities about socialising being highlighted. The fact that she feels ‘safer’ when under a fake identity gives the reader the impression of schizophrenia in Esther’s personality as well as the idea that Esther feels she cannot experience anything exciting with her own identity.
Esther’s insecurities are further explored as the night goes on and the girls go back to Lenny’s place. The repetition of ‘I felt’ in this part of the novel reflects the extent that Esther is distressed and this is highlighted with her ‘melting into the shadows’ as if she were a part of the setting, with no identity or personality. Plath also describes Esther to be ‘Shrinking to a small back dot’ this imagery mirrors Esther’s mental situation in the novel at this point in time where she is losing her sense of self, her mental health slowly deteriorating. Also Esther describes herself to be ‘a hole in ground’ where everyone is above her and she is in a position where no body notices her, she is buried. The constant reference to negative, demoralising feelings that Esther expresses in this point of the novel reveal that Esther feels out of place anywhere new to her, everything seems to alienate her and these push the reader to further question her mental health and consider the extent to which her mind is under stress.
This is a preview of the whole essay
At the Ladies day lunch Esther’s obsession with eating develops the readers perceptions of her mental health. It is noticeable that Esther ‘secretly’ analyses the positions of caviar at the dining table. This shows a competitive Esther when it comes to food as well as picking out, again, her constant state of paranoia. Reasons for this seem to be brought to the reader as we are told of her childhood with her grandfather. Her introductions to ‘titbits’ and the reference to the fact that she was constantly reminded about the price of food in her childhood reveals that it is this poverty, in which she was unable to enjoy not only the expensive food, but food in her own home, that now drives her obsession with the luxurious foods she is presented with at the Ladies’ day lunch.
Esther described her sickness, after being food poisoned, in a graphical way. The description of the toilet as a ‘torture-chamber’ gives the idea of terrible suffering in an enclosed space, The impressions of claustrophobia are given here, also highlighted as the walls ‘closed in’ and ‘squeezed’ Esther into pieces as she was sick in the bathroom.
Plath also brings Esther’s mind under stress through her experiences with men. We notice that Esther takes an instant liking to Constantine, she refers to the happiness she felt whilst she was with her father. This is significant as throughout the novel it is made obvious that Esther was only truly happy and stable (mentally) whilst her father was still alive, this brings a sense of nostalgia and happiness in the novel which was not previously seen. Esther’s reference to the ‘fig tree’ and options in life show the reader the awareness Esther has of her options. This provokes the reader to think more heavily of Esther’s mind under stress and her own awareness of it as well as what Esther has become from her childhood.
Marco’s treatment of Esther gives the opportunity for the reader to analyse her reaction to another form of male attention. Marco's first impressions as a 'woman hater' made by Esther reveal his unpredictable character early to the reader, she describes him as a 'snake' suggesting his sly personality, looking normal to others but ready to attack at any minute. When questioned about the diamond he has given her, Esther, surprisinglygives a calm answer; wanting to 'hunt for it' afterwards. She even describes her evening bag as a 'night bird', here she gives calm and beautiful imagery after her attempted rape, This certainly gives he reader an odd impression of Esther's mental state.
When Esther is to leave the next day, she throws her clothes out of her window, as if she is purging herself of New York and its memories, good or bad. She describes her clothes to be 'loved ones ashes' to settle in the 'Dark heart of New York'. The use of the word 'truce' to describe her clothes suggest a defeated Esther, and she has decided to give up her constant battle with New York and leave. Also, the use of the 'ashes' symbolise Esther's old being in New York, the one that she is leaving behind, that is now dead - further highlighted by the use of 'dark' in the description of New York, as if it may engulf you in its darkness, with connotations of death as well as evil. The personification used in this part of the novel emphasises the extent that New York and its experiences have affected Esther; people can physically and mentally harm a person, just as New York has done to her.
Esther's Experiences in New York evidently show Esther's regression into an unhealthy mental state. Plath presents to us her naked inner feelings and reactions to difficult and uncomfortable situations which are intriguing to the reader, showing the extent to which her mind is under stress. We notice, in particular, her constant state of paranoia throughout these experiences and as a result the fact that she is an unreliable narrator is stressed.