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The Bell Jar and Psychology
Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar is often considered a literary classic for its description of the protagonist’s angst ridden journey through depression. In the autobiographical novel, Esther Greenwood, Plath’s protagonist, sinks into a profound depression after her third year at college during the 1950’s. Esther battles not only a deteriorating mental stability, but also a lack of a sense of individuality, which leads to her major depressive disorder. Esther is a sensitive and intelligent woman who feels oppressed by the obvious social restrictions placed upon her, along with the pressure she feels regarding her future. Esther feels overwhelmed and powerless to break free of the emotional burdens of her inner world of alienation and depression. Her story of the overcoming of depression leads the reader through a story of dependency, self-criticism, and inefficacy all to become healthy once again.
The novel begins in New York City, during the summer after Esther Greenwood’s third year at college. Esther spends the month of June interning at a ladies' fashion magazine in Manhattan, after winning a scholarship for her writing. During her time as an intern, she becomes uninterested in the work, despite her initial expectations, and increasingly unsure of her own prospects. Esther shows the beginning signs of depression, with self-doubt along with paranoia, when faced with the possibilities of career and success as a writer. Essentially an outcast among the other 12 girls who won scholarships, Esther's numerous attempts at social conformity fail, as her image of herself is incomplete and contradictory. When returning home to the suburbs of Boston, her mother tells her she did not make a writing course she applied to, a devastating blow to Esther also grows disenchanted with her boyfriend, Buddy Willard. Her sleep and eating patterns decrease and become irregular as she falls deeper into the stages of depression. She goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Gordon but he proves to be not much help to Esther’s condition and advises shock therapy, which she comes to hate. Meanwhile, Esther is obsessively contemplating suicide. She decides to overdose on sleeping pills, but he
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