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The Bell Jar
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The Bell Jar > Bell Jar: Chapter 6-10

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Anna (Cask & Quill) (caskandquill) | 25 comments Mod
Chapter 6-10 discussion area!

Anna (Cask & Quill) (caskandquill) | 25 comments Mod
Just read the next five chapters last night and I really saw a lot of what we'd been discussing last week developing. The baby mystery has been solved, for one. Haha.

To build on what Nichelle and Kristin started talking about last week, I noticed more instances of Esther talking about wanting to become clean or to hone herself, wiping away her impurity. It seems to me like some of her feelings of indecision (and edging toward indifference) are wrapped up with view of her own unworthiness. It seems deeper than just wanting a clean slate, like we all sometimes crave, because it's not just a do-over or a fresh start, but actually a judgment of herself and, seemingly, her worth.

I can't help but notice that typically when we hear about purity we think of sexual chastity or "propriety." However, we've learned by now that Esther has not had much, if any, sexual experience at all. In this section, we learned about the sexual assault she was victim to at the party she went to with Doreen. At first I thought that might be connected, and it might be, but she's been using that type of language since before the assault took place. I just think that's an interesting word choice and something I want to pay attention to going forward. I'm also interested in how the assault continues to affect her throughout the book.

Some of us talked last week about the disconnect between education and life. I think we're seeing that again even more in this next section. I think it's important that we've seen the juxtaposition of the medical students she's known and her own experience as a "plain" English major. The med students seem to have a clear path laid out for them. Clear skills and tasks to perform that have a direct translation to what they'll be doing in their career. Whereas Esther is encouraged to learn shorthand or some other skill outside of her degree to ensure she can set herself apart and be "successful." Adding insult to injury, Esther doesn't get into the summer course she was pretty well banking on being part of. It seems to me she had used that as a way to sort of prolong the comfort of schooling, where she excels, and to feel like she has a plan.

I am struck by Esther's resistance to gender norms, particularly of the day. She mentions the unfairness or dissatisfaction that certain things involving the differences between what men can do and what women can do. She talks about how working for a man sounds wholly unfulfilling to her and she wants to be the one calling shots. Girl power! :) She also talks about not wanting to be married. She notices these issues, but I wonder if she doesn't feel somewhat powerless to do much about it, as she seems to feel powerless and directionless in a lot of what is going on in her life.

Did anyone else start getting anxious while reading the fig tree metaphor? That resonated with me pretty deeply and definitely illustrated the indecision Esther is experiencing in a more visceral way.

Okay, I've gone on long enough. I feel like I have so much more to say, so I hope you guys add on to this or hit us with your own ideas! Really enjoying this so far!

Emily (arlunydd) So I've fallen behind due to overtime work! Catching up today and will post my thoughts soon! :)

Anna (Cask & Quill) (caskandquill) | 25 comments Mod
Sounds good! :)

message 5: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 23, 2018 08:50PM) (new)

Yes! The fig tree metaphor gave me a lot of feelings. It so perfectly encapsulated the many life paths we all have in front of us in life. And how they start to dwindle as we make more choices and grow older. Ahh! It was such a perfect illustration of both the hope, feeling overwhelmed, and eventual regret that comes from the many paths to choose from in life.

I also was struck by Esther's feminism, especially given the time period. In addition to Esther's musings on gender norms, I also thought it was interesting how Chapters 7-9 each explored different types of relationships with members of the opposite sex. In Chapter 7, we meet Constantine and see Esther's strong attraction to someone who is interesting and cosmopolitan. In juxtaposition to Constantine, Chapter 8 sees Buddy again, who is decidedly not interesting or cosmopolitan (to Esther, at least). And then in Chapter 9 we meet Marco, the "woman-hater" (a trait Esther keenly observes within minutes of meeting him) and Esther's eventual assailant. Each chapter explores a certain archetype of man, and we see themes of femininity, sexuality, and gender norms explored through the lens of Esther's interactions, feelings, and responses towards these men (and in their responses and interactions with her).

I also am enjoying the book so far! I'm interested to see where we'll be going next heading into Chapter 11, as Chapter 10 sees a pretty significant decline in Esther's functioning after she moves home.

Anna (Cask & Quill) (caskandquill) | 25 comments Mod
Nichelle, I love what you point out with the three archetypal males Esther encounters. Especially in terms of the different sexual encounters they represent. Constantine, the cosmopolitan, comes across as interested in her, but doesn't push her into anything sexual. He comes off as trustworthy in that sense. Buddy, the sort of "blah" guy, has that awkward quasi-sexual encounter with her ("don't you want to see me?") which is then marked by her feeling unequal in experience to him. And finally Marco, "woman-hater", who attacks her sexually. Such an interesting juxtaposition!

Emily (arlunydd) Finally caught up! This section gave me... feelings. I agree with the anxiety surrounding the fig metaphor. Since it resonates so strongly still, I wonder what it says about the education system in North America, as well as ageism in our culture. I know that I'm coming up to 28 and am continuously fighting against the feeling that if I haven't succeeded by now, o am obviously doomed to failure.

I think Esther is feeling a disconnect between her own feminist views and the expectations of those around her. That doesn't help her depression - and by God can I relate to her feeling of crying! I'm interested to see if she does indeed visit the psychiatrist.

Anna (Cask & Quill) (caskandquill) | 25 comments Mod
Emily, that's such a great point and makes me wonder how entwined this issue is with education in particular. And, is this specific to education, or even North American education, or is this something that many/most/all of us experience in some form as sort of a condition of life or culture? That feeling of being "behind" or losing time is distressing to say the least. It's very competitive in nature. And implies that there are "right ways" to live and be successful. What do you guys think? Do we have a sense yet on what the author attributes the fig anxiety to?

message 9: by Kat (last edited Apr 24, 2018 06:14PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kat (freekat) | 5 comments I get the feeling that, especially in the time this book was written, that the fig metaphor is partly related to being a woman and having to choose a career over having a family. All of the men she's encountered thus far perhaps enforce her feelings of inadequacy, she's not "whatever enough" for Constantine to want to make a move on her, Buddy chose to sleep with another woman instead of saving himself for her, and Marco makes her feel like she's nothing to be bothered with. It's interesting how Ester has such strong feminist views but in that day and age perhaps that could be contributing to her depression, she feels like she can never do what she wants to do because her gender will always overshadow and play a larger role.

Anna, I don't think there is a "right way" to be successful because everyone has their own idea of success. That being said there is definitely a societal view of "success" and that pressure definitely weighs down on all of us no matter how hard we try to not let it. I think that's what makes Ester's character relatable, wanting to do everything but not knowing what you're really truly good at. The want becomes overwhelming.

Emily (arlunydd) There definitely is a pressure to succeed nowadays. It seems like you are put on the school- higher education - job- married - kids path right away. If you haven't ticked off all the boxes by a certain age, you start to feel as if you're "behind".
I really like the fig metaphor, as I have felt the same way. Once a choice is made, you can no longer choose the other options. Perhaps it relates to the linear view of success society promotes? Or the idea that once you choose a career, etc. you must follow that path to completion.
I know that I was finally able to move forward with my dreams when I accepted that making a decision does not mean that I am bound to it. It seems like Esther is experiencing a decision paralysis. I feel like there's a hint of perfectionist tendencies....? As in, if she can't excel at something, she is afraid to try it and fail.

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