While reading, The Bell Jar, I was rushed by a tidal wave of emotions. I couldn’t help but reflect and compare my own coming-of-age experiences with those of the protagonist, Esther. I certainly didn’t endure such a traumatic regression of sanity and abuse, however, I can deeply relate to the decline of mental health as a result of the massively destructive gap between societal expectations and reality. I first became aware of this sort of invisible social chasm in the higher years of elementary school. All the misconceptions of adolescence that had been imprinted into my conscious mind through countless episodes of Hannah Montana and Lizzie Maguire suddenly blew up in my face. A few stark discoveries included, boys can be cruel, girls can be crueler, and your appearance entirely determines your social status. Much like Esther’s experience, society told me to suppress and hide my self-loathing cynicism and present the same cheerful ignorance that my fellow peers seemed so adept at performing.
Likely reflecting Plath’s personal experiences, Esther battles false expectations in all facets of her life. Her romantic relationships prove to be meaningless and toxic. Her glamorous New York life turns out to be filled with violence, betrayal, and emptiness. Her inability to live in accordance with the perceived collective normalcy leads her to believe her experiences are “wrong”, and her reality is simply destined to be isolated, lonely, and filled with suffering. I believe this false sense of desolation is the foundation of the adolescent struggle with mental health and self-esteem. Deconstructing conventions of adolescence and human life in general is integral for understanding the origins of mental illness. Esther believes she is living in an unbearable reality that “normal” people don’t experience or understand, but little does she know her reality is remarkably more grounded than the empty conventions that manipulate it.
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. London: Faber and Faber, 1966. Print.