Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Bell Jar + Emma

Hi Guys! 
I found my paper I wrote this year.
It took me some time to write it and I am satisfied with the result as with my score! 
This is why I'm sharing it with you :)
I hope this is helpful! 

It's a comparison between

The Bell Jar 
Sylvia Plath 

Jane Austen


Revolutions of the Woods

I chose two books between which I do not see any resemblance at first sight. The first story I read was “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, the second one was “Emma” by Jane Austen. Both books were written by a woman, but in two different centuries. Did Jane Austen’s soul reincarnate into Sylvia Plath’s body ?

As the first chapter usually contains the most important information, I will summarise “The Bell Jar” by elaborating on the first twelve pages.

In the American 60s, a teenage girl’s destination was becoming a mother and a housewife. The protagonist Esther Greenwood did not agree with it and started a personal battle. Besides, she was on the right path to success. She won a writing contest and was given the opportunity to collaborate with the editor of a fashion magazine in New York.

She had already been losing the fight against American society, but as she returned to her hometown, things only worsened. Esther expected to be greeted by the acceptance letter for the writing course of her dreams. Unfortunately that was not the case and her life crashed down. Esther locked herself up in a bell jar filled with dark thoughts. Her only goal left was to commit suicide. After taking an overdose of sleeping pills, her darkest dream came true — she survived.

Esther was moved to several psychiatric institutions. Her recovery was a roller- coaster with ups and downs. She struggled with anxiety, loneliness and misjudgement. In the end, she succeeded in breaking the glass of the bell jar. The question remains, did she also succeed in breaking the social norms?

Esther Greenwood’s story took place in the United States of America. “The Bell Jar” consists of two parts. The first part of the story begins in New York, the city where fashion and dreams come together. This is obviously not the case for everyone, but the young girl got the taste of the upper east siders’ life. That summer, she achieved the goals that she had set for herself. Afterwards she tried to climb higher on the social ladder, but unfortunately this was not meant for women.

The story continues as the young girl returned to her hometown, a village near Boston. With her eyes fixed on success, she fell in the black hole the way you fall asleep: slowly and then all at once1. In my opinion the black hole was made of small dark dots, each representing a bad experience. After her suicide attempt, she ended up not in one, but in a whole range of asylums. These were not chosen based on her social status, but on her behaviour, which worsened in the course of the first few weeks. 
Esther came from the upper-middle class. Her mother, Mrs Greenwood worked as a lecturer at a less prestigious college2. Esther had a comfortable life, but she explained that her mother could not pay for her dream trip to Europe. If her father had not died, her future might have been different. She said that he would have taught her Latin or Greek and they would probably have had a more financially stable life.

Closer to the end, one of her friends — Joan — told her that her story had hit the newspapers. This explains how Philomena Guinea, a wealthy woman who had gone through the same pain and misery, found out about Esther’s story. The warmhearted lady financed Esther’s stay at a more expensive asylum, where she bounced off the bottom.

The story can also be analysed from the perspective of American society. Did it influence Esther’s state of mind? As the second part of the 20th century started, the United States of America kept on going through a restless time. In the 50s, due to the Cold War Americans were afraid of anything that might be linked to communism. The Rosenbergs were mentioned in the first sentence of “The Bell Jar”. They were a couple executed for conspiracy to pass information to the Soviet Union. In the 60s, citizens did not seem to be allowed to express their opinion, which caused a chaotic period. Still more voices were fighting for Civil Rights, the hippies were against the Vietnam War and the feminists saw it as a perfect opportunity to fight for their own rights. Among other things, women did not want to feel dominated by men anymore, they wanted society to treat them equally and they wanted to break the housewife spell.

I am convinced that Esther Greenwood was influenced by the spirit of the time. She was definitely a feminist, but unfortunately she had less faith in her future. Perhaps the oppression of women was already remarkable two centuries earlier?

The story Jane Austen wrote about Emma Woodhouse was not a description of a negative trace society left on a person. The story did not flow smoothly either, but nobody suffered from chronic depression. The characters were simply in illusory love. Emma was a young lady who found matchmaking much more satisfying than painting or embroidering. Her friend — Herriet Smith — was a naive girl, who let Emma manipulate and organise her life.

The first young man with whom Harriet Smith fell in love was Mr Elton. According to Emma’s observations, they would match perfectly. Unfortunately, he proposed to Emma and not to Harriet. Emma refused his proposal, but Herriet was devastated by this unexpected turn. Luckily Harriet got over it and found a new man with whom she wanted to share her love, it was Mr Martin. They were mutually infatuated with each other, but Emma’s advice caused that Harriet refused his proposal.

Is third time a charm? A new gentleman put a spell on Herriet. When Emma heard the news, she thought about Frank Churchill. He was a charming, talented and smart man, who came to visit his father in Highbury. Emma was wrong, though. When she realised Herriet’s new crush was Mr Knightley, she turned bitter. Emma was convinced that she had “never been in love; it [was] not [her] way, or [her] nature; and [she did] not think [she] ever shall”. This time she did not feel like matching them as she was the one who loved Mr Knightley.

Mr Knightley proposed to Emma and she accepted his proposal. It put an end to her friendship with Herriet. The good news was that Herriet’s love for Mr Martin did not fade and they married each other as well.

“Emma” by Jane Austen takes place in the United Kingdom during the Georgian Age. As the book was published in 1815, the story was probably written at the beginning of the 19th century. It was a time of social and economic change. The Industrial Revolution caused that still more people were working in factories and moved to cities. However, the story takes place in idyllic Highbury, a village near London where wealthy families lived. Emma Woodhouse came from the upper-middle class3. It is reflected in her peaceful lifestyle, her posh clothes and the parties she attended, where the guests enjoyed rich meals.

In the same period the Napoleon Wars took place. They caused that minimal amounts of grain were imported to Britain from Europe. The author mentioned poverty in the book, but she did not elaborate on this subject. Emma paid charitable visits to poor families, but the conversations were always about trivial subjects, so the living conditions of the poor in villages and in cities4 were not discussed. In my opinion, Jane Austen skipped these subjects, because she was convinced they were obvious facts to the readers.

I enjoy opening a book and feel that a new adventure has begun. There are ups and downs in most reading experiences, but you always come back stronger and wiser. Both books contained inspiring quotes.

In “The Bell Jar” one metaphor in chapter five caught my attention particularly. I quote:

I flipped through one story after another until finally I came to a story about a fig-tree. This fig-tree grew on a green lawn between the house of a Jewish man and a convent, and the Jewish man and a beautiful dark nun kept meeting at the tree to pick the ripe figs, until one day they saw an egg hatching in a bird’s nest on a branch of the tree and as they watched the little bird peck its way out of the egg, they touched the backs of their hands together, and then the nun didn’t come out to pick figs with the Jewish man any more but a mean-faced Catholic kitchen-maid came to pick them instead and counted up the figs the man picked after they were both through to be sure he hadn’t picked any more than she had, and the man was furious.

Two chapters later Esther Greenwood used the same story as a metaphor to describe her state of mind. Her life was the fig tree. Every sweet fruit growing on the tree was a magnificent opportunity, but she did not know which one to pick. She decided to sit in the shadow of the tree to think about the decision she should make. In the meantime she noticed that all those fruity figs turned black and mouldy. They were surrounding her like a herd of fierce animals. The dark part begins here. Esther started to draw up the cruellest plans to commit suicide. It sounded as if she woke up in an extremely bad mood one day and simply followed her chaotic thoughts. That was absolutely not the case. To be honest, I was moved by the long process of Esther’s with ups and downs. The young girl did not feel complete in any place — not in glamorous New York, nor in her modest hometown. She felt as if her soul left her body and she tried to find it. Unfortunately with the conviction that she would never find it back.

Her own mother was not fully aware of the gravity of the problem. Mrs Greenwood kept on repeating that Esther was not one of those insane and silly inmates, she was someone better. However, Esther knew how she felt inside and her mother’s words were only aggravating her emotional state.

As “Emma” by Jane Austen was rather a love story, I found many romantic and inspiring quotes, which probably set my expectations too high. It is hard to choose one, but let me quote Mr Knightley’s declaration of love to Emma:

“I cannot make speeches, Emma. If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me (...) Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The matter, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover. But you understand me. Yes, you see, you understand my feelings — and will return them if you can.”

This excerpt is a beautiful description of Mr Knightley’s love for Emma. The truth is the language is bombastic and the vocabulary sounds pompous. As Jane Austen came from an aristocratic family, this is a believable testimony in my opinion. She wrote the book using the words she heard in her daily life. As a reader from two centuries later, I found the book quite formal and wearisome. The story did inspire me, because the love story was much more complex than the ones we see in popular movies and books nowadays. I do not want to be misunderstood as I find the whole story interesting. However, the lack of action, the extremely long descriptions of the idyllic life and the difficult language made it sometimes hard for me to understand what the author was trying to say. I am grateful for the drawings as a summary of what was happening in the story. They were very helpful and stimulated my imagination to see what life was like in the 19th century.

Finding a relation between both books was not an easy task. A superficial fact is that both first names of the protagonists start with the letter “E” and they have the word “Wood” in their last name. A more profound similarity is that Esther and Emma avoided the life of an average woman. Both girls did not want to end up married to simply fit in society. Esther was rebellious, while Emma avoided relationships by meddling into others’ lives. Their own lives also changed in unpredictable ways. Esther did not get into her dream university and she ended up pregnant. Emma tried to be a happy independent woman, but in the end her heart admitted it needed love. Even though both heroines failed, it is important to set goals in life. Reaching the top with cuts and bruises is better than hitting rock bottom and ending up with a broken spine. 


I tried to fix the lay-out, but it won't stay the way I do it.
The Sources are definitely into freestyle, haha!
What is this???

Have a nice weekend!

MissCherry xo


Barkan, Steve. “Social Class In The United States.” 6 Oct. 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

Green, John. The Fault In Our Stars. London: Pinguin Books, 2012. 

Hierarchy Structure. “19th Century England Social Hierarchy”.

Lambert, Tim. “19th Century Britain”. 2012. Web. 12 May 2016.

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