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The Bell Jar : A Retrospection

When I had just begun reading The Bell Jar, that was suggested to me by Gaurav Da (Gaurav Deka, author of North-East India’s first e-book, Madrigal - a song for several voices), I thought it would be just another novel giving me a good time. 
The last novel that left a long lasting impact on me was The Kite Runner; after reading it I was crying for days and I was sad for weeks. But I had no idea Sylvia Plath would leave a way deeper impact on me than that. I had read about the way Sylvia had decided to end her life, years ago but as I kept on reading her semi-autobiography it almost felt like she was someone I knew. And when I reached the last page of the book that talked of hope and uncertainties, at four in the morning, I was nothing but devastated as I knew the tragic reality that happened a month after her first and only book was published, on Feb 1963.

Death is poetic at times, pain is bliss and suffering is romantic; but it's not so when you feel for someone else's pain, death and sufferings - you feel sad, you feel helpless, you wish you could help but you know it’s too late.

She wrote the novel with the perspective of someone being inside the bell jar; she had been writing another novel with the viewpoint of someone out of the bell jar with a clearer view. But she must have again been trapped in the same bell jar, owing to the adversities she faced, before she could finish it. How I wish she had completed it and how I wish she were not dead.

Here are a few quotes from the novel “The Bell Jar” which I liked:

How did I know that someday--at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere--the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again?

*

I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely 
the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.

*

When they asked me what I wanted to be I said I didn’t know.
“Oh, sure you know,” the photographer said.
“She wants,” said Jay Cee wittily, “to be everything.”

*

I felt limp and betrayed, like the skin shed by a terrible animal. It was a relief to be free of the animal, but it seemed to have taken my spirit with it, and everything else it could lay its paws on.

*

I began to see why woman-haters could make such fools of women. Woman-haters were like gods: invulnerable and chockfull of power.
They descended, and then they disappeared. You could never catch one.

*

I felt it was very important not to be recognized.

*

“If you were going to kill yourself, how would you do it?”

*

I was afraid that at any moment my control would snap, and I would start babbling about how I couldn’t read and couldn’t write and how I must be just about the only person who had stayed awake for a solid month without dropping dead of exhaustion.

*

I wondered at what point in space the silly, sham blue of the sky turned black.

*

I thought drowning must be the kindest way to die, and burning the worst.

*

The only thing I could read, besides the scandal sheets, were those abnormal-psychology books. It was as if some slim opening had been left, so I could learn all I needed to know about my case to end it in the proper way.

*

They said the cure for thinking too much about yourself was helping somebody who was worse off than you.

*

I had meant to cover my legs if anybody came in, but now I saw it was too late, so I let them stick out, just as they were, disgusting and ugly.
“That’s me,” I thought. “That’s what I am.”

*

I also hate people to ask cheerfully how you are when they know you’re feeling like hell and expect you to say “Fine.”

*

If I was going to fall, I would hang on to my small comforts, at least, as long as I possibly could.

*

“What does a woman see in a woman that she can’t see in a man?”
Doctor Nolan paused. Then she said, “Tenderness.”

*

And when I told the poet I might well get married and have a pack of children someday, she stared at me in horror. “But what about your career?” she had cried.

*

There was the famous poet, and Philomena Guinea, and Jay Cee, and the Christian Scientist lady and lord knows who, and they all wanted to adopt me in some way, and, for the price of their care and influence, have me resemble them.

*

“I like you.”
“That’s tough, Joan,” I said, picking up my book. “Because I don’t like you. You make me puke, if you want to know.”

*

My mother’s face floated to mind, a pale, reproachful moon, at her last and first visit to the asylum since my twentieth birthday. A daughter in an asylum!
I had done that to her. Still, she had obviously decided to forgive me.

“We’ll take up where we left off, Esther,” she had said, with her sweet, martyr’s smile. “We’ll act as if all this were a bad dream.”

A bad dream.
To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.
A bad dream.

I remembered everything.
I remembered the cadavers and Doreen and the story of the fig tree and Marco’s diamond and the sailor on the Common and Doctor Gordon’s wall-eyed nurse and the broken thermometers and the Negro with his two kinds of beans and the twenty pounds I gained on insulin and the rock that bulged between sky and sea like a gray skull.

Maybe forgetfulness, like a kind snow, should numb and cover them.

But they were part of me. They were my landscape.

*

What was there about us, in Belsize, so different from the girls playing bridge and gossiping and studying in the college to which I would return? Those girls, too, sat under bell jars of a sort.

*

I saw, for the first time, how he had changed. Instead of the old, sure smile that flashed on easily and frequently as a photographer’s bulb, his face was grave, even tentative—the face of a man who often does not get what he wants.

*

But I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure at all. How did I know that someday--at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere--the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?

*

“I wonder who you’ll marry now, Esther. Now you’ve been,” and Buddy’s gesture encompassed the hill, the pines and the severe, snowgabled buildings breaking up the rolling landscape, “here.”


And of course I didn’t know who would marry me now that I’d been where I had been. I didn’t know at all.

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