Esther Greenwood is inspiring, relatable, and problematic but above all, she is real. When on the first page she is discussing how she should be proud to be in New York but she just isn’t, I completely related to it. The feeling that this amazing opportunity you’ve been given is not what you imagined it to be and the guilt that comes with it. Later on, when she is discussing the double standard women face in regards to their own sexuality I was cheering her on, and when she tells a fragile Joan that she makes her want to puke I was disappointed.
But I don’t believe that Plath wrote Esther to be a sympathetic character as much as she wrote her to be a representation of herself and other women who were just like her. We empathize with what she is going through but we don’t relate to her as a person and I believe that is the intention. Plath’s other works are a blend of both beautiful and horrific imagery because that’s what her life looked to her. She had moments of great joy and moments of deep despair and when writing a character so intrinsically linked to her own person we are bound to get a complex and at times dislikable character.
I view Esther as a breath of fresh air. Even 50 years after her creation she is one of the most interesting, conflicted characters I have ever come across. Gone is this idea of a perfect, kind, beautiful woman and instead here is a woman who is witty, mean, and suffering. Maybe that’s the point Plath wanted to make.
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. London: Faber and Faber, 1966. Print.