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Identity in the Bell Jar

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Essay title: Identity in the Bell Jar

A sense of individuality is essential for surviving the numerous emotional and physical obstacles encountered in daily life. A unique identity is perhaps one of the only true characteristics that defines an individual and is definitely a key principle for understanding and responding to one's atmosphere. In the "Bell Jar," Esther battles not only a deteriorating mental stability, but also a lack of a sense of individuality. Esther is a young, sensitive and intelligent woman who feels oppressed by the obvious social restrictions placed upon women, and the pressure she feels regarding her future. Undoubtedly these emotional burdens result not only in Esther's social and intellectual isolation, but also her impending mental breakdown. Clearly, Esther is deeply troubled by the hypocritical and often vicious world encompassing her, and feels overwhelmed and powerless to break free of her inner world of alienation. Instead of firmly establishing a genuine sense of self, Esther adopts and scrutinizes the images and personalities of the women in her life, which neither fit nor reflects her legitimate character.

Throughout the novel Esther is faced with numerous possibilities regarding her future aspirations. Although she is an extremely perceptive and bright woman, Esther has no sense of imminent direction, and instead imagines herself becoming and achieving an abundance of successes simultaneously. Upon meeting her boss, Jay Cee, Esther is immediately impressed with her flourishing balance of a career and marriage, and begins to imagine herself attaining similar achievements:

"I tried to imagine what it would be like if I were Cee...Cee, the famous editor, in an office full of potted rubber plants and African violets my secretary had to water each morning." (pg 36)

Esther idolizes Jay Cee for her wisdom and prosperity, however, she is indecisive and paranoid about choosing s single path to follow in life. Esther envisions her life as a fig tree in which she cannot choose a single branch:

"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree...I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet." (pg 73)

Jay Cee symbolizes the urbane and polished accomplishments which Esther desperately wishes to embody, despite her inability to resolve on striving for a particular aim, she eventually learns of Esther's incompetent decisiveness as she states: "She wants...to be everything" (pg 97). As a scholarship recipient, Esther feels obligated to impress everyone, and live up to the standards which the outside world has placed upon her. Consequently, Esther drives herself to a state of utter depression and disillusionment, feeling that she could not possibly measure up to the standards expected of her. Even while institutionalized Esther cannot escape from the intense pressure of her visitors: "I kept feeling the visitors measuring my fat and stringy hair against what I had been and what they wanted me to be". Detached and isolated from her inner self, Esther focuses her hopes and dreams on the anticipations of others.

Esther exists in a perceptive and cerebral world which consequently segregates her from many social aspects in her life. Essentially an outcast, Esther's numerous attempts at social conformity fail, as her image of herself is incomplete and contradictory. Esther views herself as a pure and naive "good girl", and feels exhilarated while experimenting with Doreen's lifestyle. She sees Doreen as a worldly, sophisticated, clever and experienced "bad girl", and is enchanted at the prospect of constant emotional and sexual freedom. As Esther states: "...being with Doreen made me forget my worries. I felt wise and cynical as hell" (pg 7). Doreen symbolizes Esther's need to revolt against her obsession with sexual purity and obeying the rules, and for a short time she enjoys her adaptation to this way of life. Although Esther appears captivated with Doreen's lifestyle, she quickly determines that she cannot harmonize with Doreen's flirtatious nature and wild escapades, and instead aspires to join the pure and simple natured Betsy.

In many ways the lives of Esther and Betsy are very similar. Both are young, scholarship winning women who, to a certain degree, exist in a world of purity and innocence. However, unlike Betsy, Esther does not appreciate her femininity as she refuses to get married or have a family. Just as Esther cannot adapt to Doreen's world of seduction and rebellion she cannot adjust to the womanly role

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