After years of trying to get through it, I was finally able to finish reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. And I felt things. I usually just blurt out these random things in Twitter, but I figured some content would be triggering so I just decided to document it over in my reading journal. These musings are way personal than I was expecting. This is how I usually write in my journal – things that are mostly disjointed it’s hard to fashion them into a decent and coherent review. I was honestly debating whether I should post this or not here but I figured, for the sake of documenting it, I can give it a shot. So before I start, trigger warnings are in order: there are plenty of mentions of “suicide” and “themes of suicide” below. And this is not spoiler-free as well. Note that these are just merely personal musings, so take it with a grain of salt.
“I knew something was wrong with me that summer […]. I was supposed to be having the time of my life.”
1. This familiar feeling of perpetual discontent. How many times have I actually felt something like this.
“All my life I’d told myself studying and reading and writing and working like mad was what I wanted to do, and it actually seemed to be true, I did everything well enough and got all the A’s, and by the time I made it to college nobody could stop me.”
2. But what if this is me? What if I am just deceiving myself all this time that this is what I want?
“The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be a place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a fourth of July rocket.”
3. This sudden spark of hopefulness is what makes it hard sometimes.
“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.
4. And it is scary how, most times than not, I share Esther’s distate on the idea of marriage. Like it is some sort of anchor that would weigh you down and prevent you from doing things you always wanted to do. I don’t know why that is.
“I can’t sleep. I can’t read.”
5. This had happened to me – a couple of times. Reading stabilizes me because it allows myself / my brain to focus on one thing: the text in front of me. And to not be able to do it, I can only imagine how frustrating it was. Because it was for me.
“It must take a lot of courage to die like that.”
6. The way Ether thinks about dying and how. I never really stopped to think about the how‘s of it in the perspective of the reader mainly because I don’t really wanna think about it.
“As I paddled on, my heartbeat boomed like a dull motor in my eyes. I am, I am, I am.”
7. This was the first time I encountered the “I am” quote. I was almost disappointed because she was mentioning it right before another attempt by good thing it was used again in a different context later in the text.
“Because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street cafe in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”
8. I liked the metaphor of the bell jar cutting you off from fresh circulating air. When you are inside the bell jar, besides the fact that you feel trapped, the air festers.
Re. Joan’s suicide:
9. I felt the same thing I did when Naoko from Norwegian Wood was found dead. There was a sense of shock, then emptiness. Because I should’ve known, put the pieces together. The way they are okay a few days before, hopeful even – and then this. I’ve always felt that this is something that must have eaten at them before they do it but now it almost feel like an impulse. Or rather, it was always something that is ever present. They contain it, it’s in the back of their heads and when the time comes when they can’t contain it anymore, and there is no buffer, they would just explode and do it. I will never know. And I don’t know why I am imagining it.
“But I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure at all. How did you know that someday […] the bell jar, with its’s stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”
10. The uncertainty. This is what is scary, I guess.
This was an okay novel as far as it being a novel can get. But if you treat it as something other – simply an honest narration of her 6-month crash – this was brilliant. The way Sylvia Plath was able to capture it in its simplicity and purity as a human tragedy while bringing out the sense of emptiness and loneliness that was ever present. I applaud her for that. I admit that I’ve always romanticized Sylvia Plath, in my mind, and her eventual death. I am not sure if that is a good thing. But I am glad that I read this book. I am glad that Esther didn’t die in this one.