#18 The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
In my review for Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, I said that it was something I needed to read at this point in my life. It acted almost as a catharsis for some things I was going through and I could relate wholeheartedly with Rob Fleming. It was good.
Well, The Bell Jar had pretty much the opposite effect on me. Don't get me wrong, I really loved this book. As a young woman, it's something I needed to read. But damn, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't questioning my own sanity by the time I got to the middle of the book.
Esther Greenwood comes from a small suburban town outside of Boston. She's always been a straight-A student and school is her thing. While in college, she is given an internship at a women's magazine in New York City with several other successful college girls. She isn't used to the privileged and glamorous life nor does she really care for it. She's not as awestruck as one might expect her to be. It's clear early on that Esther is merely going through the motions. Despite this enormous opportunity, Esther seems very neutral. She follows her friends around and does what they feel like doing. When she meets men, she doesn't use her real name. When her internship is over, Esther's world comes to a halt when she discovers some news regarding a summer college class. To be cliche, she goes off the deep end. The second half of the book shows how completely apart Esther becomes. How even though she was intelligent and showed plenty of potential, that wasn't enough.
I am someone who's life has always revolved around school. I made sure I did well in high school to get myself into a great college. I worked my ass off in college to make sure I could stay there. And then I graduated. What was I going to do after that? I didn't want to go to graduate school (not yet at least) and the US economy made sure I couldn't find a job. I felt lost. I felt like Esther Greenwood. She always relied on her intelligence to get her by. And then her intelligence and ability were put in doubt and she no longer felt worthy of living. Definitely not something I should have read when I was working part-time in a minimum wage job and hoping hoping hoping that something good might happen soon. Just to make myself clear, I didn't feel like downing a bottle of sleeping pills, but I certainly felt like, "Hmm, Esther and I have a little much in common. What does that say about me?"
Similar to when I read The Awakening a couple months back, The Bell Jar was written in the 1960s but it's still applicable to present day. If I can relate to a female college student from the 1960s when some universities didn't even allow women to study at that time (see UVA 1971), then we may have a problem.