Identity in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar Essay

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Identity in The Bell Jar

A sense of individuality is essential for surviving the numerous emotional and physical obstacles encountered in daily life. A unique identity is perhaps one of the only true characteristics that defines an individual and is definitely a key principle for understanding and responding to one's atmosphere. In the "Bell Jar," Esther battles not only a deteriorating mental stability, but also a lack of a sense of individuality. Esther is a young, sensitive and intelligent woman who feels oppressed by the obvious social restrictions placed upon women, and the pressure she feels regarding her future. Undoubtedly these emotional burdens result not only in Esther's social and intellectual isolation, but also
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Esther envisions her life as a fig tree in which she cannot choose a single branch:

"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree...I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet." (pg 73)

Jay Cee symbolizes the urbane and polished accomplishments which Esther desperately wishes to embody, despite her inability to resolve on striving for a particular aim, she eventually learns of Esther's incompetent decisiveness as she states: "She wants...to be everything" (pg 97). As a scholarship recipient, Esther feels obligated to impress everyone, and live up to the standards which the outside world has placed upon her. Consequently, Esther drives herself to a state of utter depression and disillusionment, feeling that she could not possibly measure up to the standards expected of her. Even while institutionaized Esther cannot escape from the intense pressure of her visitors: "I kept feeling the visitors measuring my fat and stringy hair against what I had been and what they wanted me to be".

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