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Esther Greenwood in “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Oct 12th, 2021

This paper would discuss and evaluate the evidence of Esther Greenwood’s impending collapse and it would also consider the significant contributing factors in this respect.

In “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath the main character, Esther Greenwood was submerged into gloominess after her third year of college while it was summer. There are many factors and components that cause this to happen to Esther. The social restrictions placed upon women of her time, her own insecurities over her identity, and the pressure she receives from all of her close ones. She felt like her mind and soul should be with her body so she decided to commit suicide. Outwardly, she appears successful and highly motivated, which contrasts sharply with her inner confusion and feelings of helplessness causing her dilemma to depress her even more.

Esther is a sensitive, intelligent young woman who feels demoralized by the noticeable social limitations placed upon women, and the stress she feels concerning her future. These emotional burdens result not only in Esther’s social and intellectual separation, but also her mental breakdown.

Esther despises the superiority that men retain over women and the maternal role which women are expected to fulfill. Clearly, Esther is deeply troubled by the hypocritical world that holds her, and feels overwhelmed and powerless to break free of her inner world of isolation. Instead of firmly establishing a sense of self, Esther adopts and examines the images and personalities of the women in her life. Neither fit nor reflects her character

Obviously, it is Esther’s insecurity over her identity that causes her to go with the personalities of others, but is also retains a deeper meaning. It is not until she is rejected from both the social and intellectual worlds that Esther’s world completely gets destroyed. Esther’s many attempts to fit into the “inner circle” of society shows the costly consequence of emotional and social detachment. Esther’s closes ones affect her stage of depression in a very critical way.

Esther is sent to see a Dr Gordon at her mother’s expense. She is not sleeping, has not “washed her hair in three weeks,” and cannot read or write. He prescribes electric shock treatment, which is described as a horrific and terrifying experience. She stops taking the treatment with him, her overbearing mother under the illusion that she had decided not to be like “those awful dead people at the hospital.” Far from recovery, Esther begins to experiment with different ways of killing herself. She attempts to drown herself, hang herself, slit her wrists and after taking an overdose of sleeping pills is sent to a psychiatric ward, first in the state run hospital and then in a private hospital.

In conclusion Esther from “The Bell Jar” goes through a very rough time of her life. What caused her to be depressed were the social restrictions placed upon women of her time, her own insecurities over her identity, and the pressure she receives from all of her close ones. All of these factors contribute to her dilemma which is that of a young woman who is unsure about life. After really hard times Esther begins gradually to recover.

She enjoys the pleasant country-club surroundings that she is sent to and develops closeness with her psychiatrist, Dr. Nolan. Esther also undergoes a more successful round of shock therapy, after which she feels the “bell jar” of depression lifting. At the end of the novel, Esther describes herself as optimistic and transformed.

Much of Esther’s earlier years, where she showed little to no signs of insane behavior or thought, were the years in which she played the part of a stereotypical college educated woman that wore modest dresses, neat gloves, and matching hats. Esther worked hard much of her life in order to accomplish the many scholarships and prizes that she had collected, such as the summer internship at Ladies’ Day in New York City.

During her stay, she stayed at a women’s only hotel with eleven others on her floor, all of who had won similar internships with the same magazine. The women spent their days working in the office, their nights at lavish parties, and their weekends at fur and hat shows. Although quite pleased with all that she had accomplished, Esther shied away from the other girls that quite frankly “[made her] sick” (Plath, 4).

Esther Greenwood was not a stereotype. The things that made others wild with envy simply did nothing but bore her. The dream life a well dressed, New York City secretary held no allure for her. Even though Esther had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, she knew that she would not settle for what was expected of her. During this time, girls were expected to find a nice man, marry them, settle down, and raise a family; this was not Esther’s dream. However, much of Esther’s thoughts revolved around the way she felt about men. No matter what, even if at once she loved them, in the end they would just be as worthless to her as the last one. Throughout the book, Esther has “relationships” with three important men.

Work Cited

Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar: A Novel (Perennial Classics): Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2000).

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"Esther Greenwood in "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath." IvyPanda, 12 Oct. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/esther-greenwood-in-the-bell-jar-by-sylvia-plath/.

1. IvyPanda. "Esther Greenwood in "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath." October 12, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/esther-greenwood-in-the-bell-jar-by-sylvia-plath/.


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IvyPanda. "Esther Greenwood in "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath." October 12, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/esther-greenwood-in-the-bell-jar-by-sylvia-plath/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Esther Greenwood in "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath." October 12, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/esther-greenwood-in-the-bell-jar-by-sylvia-plath/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Esther Greenwood in "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath'. 12 October.

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