Cask & Quill Book Club discussion

The Bell Jar > Bell Jar: Chapter 16-20

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Anna (Cask & Quill) (caskandquill) | 25 comments Mod
All chapters are fair game in this discussion!

Anna (Cask & Quill) (caskandquill) | 25 comments Mod
Well I just finished this yesterday and am still sorting through my final thoughts, but just to get the discussion going, I really enjoyed this book!

Esther’s progression through the whole book was very compelling. From her time in New York and feeling directionless and uninspired, to moving home after surviving assault and feeling cast adrift after not getting into the summer course, to her first therapeutic experienced and suicide attempts, to finding a center that was marking her improvement and finally returning to school and (we assume) life outside the facility. Honestly, I’m left sort of speechless by it all at the moment. Looking back it was all just...a lot.

We talked a bit before about Esther’s rejection of patriarchal norms. We see more of that in these last chapters. The birth control, for example. Yet even with that, we do see her putting down women in other ways. Being extremely judgmental of them, etc. I noticed in particular she was often quick to describe some people as being “fat” and then seemed almost unable to talk about them as if they were fully human. That was disturbing to me in the same way as her alienation of people of color.

Esther is not what I’d call an especially likable character. I don’t mean to say she’s unlikable either, but more so that she is a very real and, I think for many, a very relatable character. From our discussions, it sounds like we all saw a little of ourselves at one point or another in Esther. For me, this book was important not only for its frank discussion of depression and mental health, but also for the commentary on women, the arts and women in the arts.

Also, I just need to mention...Buddy. Ugh. Didn’t you just want to punch him in the mouth after he said “I wonder who you’ll marry now that you’ve been here?” Like, come on, bro.

Okay, that’s all I can really wrap my mind around at the moment! Hoping the rest of you add your thoughts as well. :)

**As an admin aside, you may have noticed that the book we will be reading here together in May is 1984. If you enjoyed this, you are more than welcome to stay on for 1984, too! I think it’s going to be a really good one for discussion. If it’s not your thing though, by no means feel obligated to participate. I do hope to keep the book club going though and would love to have as many of you as would like to keep going! Thanks for such a fun experience and for being part of the first book of the Cask & Quill book club!

message 3: by Kat (new)

Kat (freekat) | 5 comments This book was a lot to take in as it covers a very serious topic that was and is not discussed enough. I'm glad that Plath wrote this book as an insight to what someone with depression could go through. I have a lot of feelings on the last few chapters but I'm still trying to process them and my feelings on the whole book.

I was beginning to think that perhaps Esther's attitude and comments about people were partly due to the time period that this was written in. She didn't agree with the societal views on what women should and shouldn't do but she had no problem conforming to other views.

Also, hahaha yes to punching Buddy in the mouth! But again I'm sure very common for the time period.

So overall, I enjoyed reading this book and I look forward to reading 1984!

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

I just finished the book and also really enjoyed it! It definitely was a lot to take in, from her initial descent into depression through to her suicide attempt and then recovery. I would have been interested to learn more about Esther’s relationship with her mother and it’s impact on her depression. We obviously learn that she prefers, and seems to do better, once her mother stops coming to visit her, but I feel like there’s likely more “there” there that would have been interesting to explore. I’m likely partially reading into it because I read somewhere that the release of the Bell Jar in the US was delayed so as not to upset Sylvia’s real mother due to the parallels between her and Esther’s mother in the book. Something about that makes me feel the relationship is likely even more complex than we get a glimpse into.

Speaking of the real life parallels, there’s a section in my copy on how the Bell Jar often parallels Sylvia’s life. I’ve only read the first few pages of that section, but I am curious to see if they speak to Sylvia’s discussion of birth control and children. In the book, Esther is interested in sex but afraid of the possibility of children, feels she would “go mad” if she had children of her own, and strongly emphasizes the freedom she feels when given birth control. In real life, Sylvia had 2 children. I find the emphasis with which Esther is opposed to children an interesting point given how this seems to be the biggest way in which Esther diverges from Sylvia. Perhaps it’s a freedom Sylvia didn’t get and laments?

I too was struck by Esther’s apparent disdain for people of color and “fat” women. I’ve done some reading on issues of class and race and often people of an oppressed group will seek to put some other group below them as a means of lifting themselves up. I’m wondering if that’s what’s going on with Esther’s disdain of these 2 groups (and likely other groups as well, but those are the ones we really see). We know she feels limited by the constraints of being a woman in that day and age. Perhaps there’s a subconscious effort to put these groups down in order for her to find comfort in that, no matter her current constraints as a woman (and a woman with a mental illness), at least she’s not fat/ugly or a person of color (two groups with likely even more social impediments, although in very different ways).

message 5: by Emily (new)

Emily (arlunydd) Woo hoo! Actually finished the book!
It was an interesting read, and takes a while to digest. I am curious to see how Esther would progress "after".
I wonder if the problem Esther has with her mother is through a lack of understanding. I know that my own mother always asks when I'll be better. I am not in a state like Esther, but it would be incredibly frustrating having someone come to visit just to see when you'll be released. Removing the constant reminder of people's expectations would have benefited her, IMO.
it is also interesting to view Esther's privilege or luck. If she didn't have a sponsor who paid for her treatment, I think it's fair to say that she would not have progressed to being released. As noted, she seems to view herself as superior to certain other groups. I would also include LGBT people in the group she looks down on. Part of it is a product of her time, I think.
On that note - was this the time in history that being queer was viewed as a mental illness?

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