“I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.”
There are some books in this world that just get you. And when you turn the final page you can’t believe how someone put to words many of the emotions you’ve been struggling to. Now when saying this about Sylvia Plath’s melancholic classic The Bell Jar, a little bit of panic sets in, because let’s not forget now this is a novel about a woman who is battling with severe depression, and written by a woman who eventually killed herself.
Honestly there are a lot of similarities between Esther, the main character and voice of the novel, and myself. Esther finds herself in New York, a young woman bestowed with a job to help her better her circumstances. Her life in the city involves a lot of drinking, wondering about the future, especially her future with men, and soon Esther finds herself feeling like she’s losing control, eventually becoming hospitalized and undergoing electroshock therapy.
Reading The Bell Jar, I came to a scarier realization than the one of realizing Esther’s and my similarities; I realized that our similarities seem to be bound significantly by our society, by our circumstances, and the truth is Esther’s world in the 1960’s is not very unlike the one in which I find myself today. Women my age still find themselves crushed under the pressure to dedicate their time to relationships or work; still plagued by the anxiety of being trapped in a relationship they don’t want or accidentally getting pregnant. Yes, there are far more options for women today, and I don’t deny that, but I do not doubt the mental anguish that still exists for women who want to be successful, who want to be talented, who want to be rich, who want to be independent, who want to be mothers (one day), who want to be loved by the right person, who want to have sex, but sex with the right person. These are words that pile on and on into a never-ending mountain, like the old brag of Esther’s heart: I am, I am, I am.
I believe that often books sit on our shelves for days and days, years and years, and we don’t know why. And then there are books that sit on our shelves for years and years and when we finally read them we understand immediately that the book came at the perfect time. This is how I feel about The Bell Jar. I believe I’ve read it at the perfect time; any sooner I feel like I may have been too unstable to hope for the light at the end of Esther’s tunnel, and a day too late and it wouldn’t have affected me as deeply.
I asked Shanelle, another American resident who lives across the hall from me, roommates with Kathleen actually, to read the first page from one of the books for this competition for me. She had no preference as to what to read, so I offered The Bell Jar because I’ve always wanted to read it. During her last few days of the house I was able to pull her away for five minutes so she could read this part for me. I’m so grateful she allowed me to record her.
Books Read: 9