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Explore Through Comparison Plath's Presentation of Mental Instability in the Bell Jar and Ariel.

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Essay title: Explore Through Comparison Plath's Presentation of Mental Instability in the Bell Jar and Ariel.

Explore through comparison Plath’s presentation of mental instability in The Bell Jar and Ariel.

The point of living has been a theme in literature that has been used on many occasions, Hamlet sums it up with the question “To be or not to be”. The myth of Sisyphus also investigates the real point in living. Plath’s work is an altogether more tortured catalogue of mental illness and summing up the answer to Camus’ question. [A]

Plath expresses sequences of mental instability throughout her work, The Bell Jar often references this with the theme of rebirth and being born again. I interpret the pairing of the two themes to be significant in identifying the true state of mind Plath was portraying Esther to be in. The metaphor of water is continuous throughout the Bell Jar and is significant to the theme of mental instability. Water is a non solid substance that will take the shape of its surroundings, it also has no real shape of its own. Water also has incredible powers of destruction yet is crucial to the survival of all life forms on the planet. I think it is water’s nature that provoked Plath into using the metaphor and also developing it to surround Esther.

“Doreen is dissolving, Lenny Shepherd is dissolving, Franky is dissolving, New York is dissolving, they are all dissolving away and none of them matter anymore”[1]

The repetition of the verb “dissolving” I think is significant to understanding the message that is trying to be portrayed in this segment, it is almost a plea for the water to make the things that are playing on her mind fade away. Dissolving is a gradual process and I think the thought of her issues slowly fading into nothing provoked a stable mental platform for Esther. “None of them matter anymore” is a line which provokes thought for me, the fact that they did matter at one point and no longer do because of the bath is important. She is submerging herself with issues and coming out “pure and sweet as a new baby” [2]

Plath’s theme of using water to convey a message of healing or soothing is also highly available in Ariel, for instance in Tulips she writes;

“My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water

Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently” [3]

Describing her body as a pebble being tended to by water is similar to her repetition of dissolving, when a pebble is in a stream the stream slowly breaks pieces off of it, eventually reducing it to nothing but sand. I think Plath’s use of this metaphor is again suggesting the slow disappearance of her issues.

It is also important to remember Esther tries to commit suicide in the bell jar and considers drowning as a way to do it. This juxtaposes the original idea of water being a positive cleanser as now Esther considers it’s more dangerous aspect.

Throughout the novel Plat uses images of water with a rejuvenation stigma attached to it, she toys with the baptism concept throughout revering water as her healer or soother of her pain.

“I waited as if the sea could make a decision for me…gripped my ankle with moral ache.

My flesh winced, in mortal cowardice, from such a death.” [13]

This image of water now being her potential killer is a significant contrast to the earlier imagery. The first line in the sequence is the most interesting for me, it was only seventy pages previous the indecision was ruining Esther’s life, now she is handing the power of choice to a wild entity. It becomes an even more interesting point when considering Esther’s suicide attempt [14].

“I knew when I was beaten.

I turned back.” [15]

Plath also uses images of nature to find escapism and a sense of nothingness this is important when considering mental instability, the feelings of numbness and escapism although not only considered by people with mental health issues are generally associated with things like stress and depression. I think the importance of the fig tree sequence lies in its serene nature and its passive description. Also the feeling of numbness could be construed as a metaphor for the effects of mood stabilizing drugs.

“I wanted to crawl between those black lines of print the way you climb through a fence, and go to sleep underneath that beautiful big green fig tree” [4]

The significance

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