All Good Jokes Contain Truth: Madness and Comedic Intent in The Bell Jar

Upon finishing the Bell Jar and discussing the novel in class, I feel as though not enough attention was given to Plath’s written work of madness and comedic intent that was ensued after the major events in Esther’s life.

The concept of madness was something captivating and allows the reader to grow an intense appreciation for the person Esther was, the way Sylvia Plath captured Esther, and the way she portrayed her insanity and dark thoughts in such a beautiful and eloquent manner that was all consuming for the reader. Despite reading the Bell Jar, I was in a rational and balanced mood. However, her intricate and brooding thoughts compelled me and dragged me down to the pits of hell where she felt her mind resided and I too believed that I was going crazy. People who read The Bell Jar and fail to understand the true genius of her insanity often mistaken it as something no one is able to relate to, something too extreme, too out of this world and too far from domestic matters. Although her daily routines and patterns did not seem normal, it proposed a notion that normalcy is very ambiguous and does not have the ability to exist in everyone’s life. Many of Plath’s characters were made an example of, such as Joan who later landed in the same mental institution as Esther and committed suicide. As well as Buddy, who seemed to be a very well rounded, clean, and nice gentleman but was eventually perceived as a hypocrite for having sex before Esther did and caught TB later on in the novel. Many of us thought that these characters were collected and sane unlike Esther. However, by the end of the novel we were told other wise.

Plath was able to couple her madness with comedic intent to create a self-deprecating and cynical sense of humour that was also very clever and forward for her time. For example, when she first saw Buddy naked she began to feel depressed and described what she saw as a “turkey gizzard” (Plath 64). There was a type of honesty in her writing that could not be expected from anyone else. It seems as though the darker her thoughts become and the deeper she falls into oblivion, the more her humour intensifies and takes on a life of it’s own. Esther finds a strange comfort in playing around with her life, thus finding life to be the biggest joke of all and not giving much importance to it. For example, when she is speaking to Doctor Gordon, while being at a low point, she find it to tedious to take a shower and wash her hair because she will only find herself doing it over and over again which seems to be an inconvenience for her(Plath 123). In the same chapter, as Esther was reading an article in the newspaper about a suicide being saved from a seven story ledge, her main thought was the only trouble or inconvenience she would be in was if she survived (Plath 131). I began to think that the title, “All Good Jokes Contain Truth” was suitable for this blog post because everything Plath puts in writing is nothing short of the truth and she adds her very own style to it by being grimly facetious.

The talent that Sylvia Plath was born with and practiced upon was like no other. By combining the events of her life with her extreme apathy and clever cynicism, Plath was able to create a character that reflects herself, thus giving it an element of truth which will forever remain timeless, relevant, and appreciated throughout generations of readers of any age.

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. London: Faber and Faber, 1966. Print.

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