Describe in detail how the symbol of blood in The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, shows the protagonist's descent into insanity.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When Esther bleeds, the blood marks major points in her life.

In Chapter 9, Esther meets Marco, whom she terms "a woman-hater." She describes him as like a god: "invulnerable and chock-full of power." Marco proves her correct as he later throws her to the ground to rape her, but Esther resists, kicking him and punching him in the nose. When his nose bleeds, Marco smears this blood on her cheeks, staining them as he demands his diamond pin which she put into her handbag. After she returns, Esther throws her clothes, one by one, off the building. In Chapter 10, she writes, "The face in the mirror looked like a sick Indian." The transformation has involved suffering, and she leaves the blood on her face as she takes the train back home.

Then, in Chapter 12, after her mother has taken her to Dr. Gordon, a psychiatrist, Esther is recommended for shock treatments. As her mother talks, Esther reads of a man's suicide. Later, she walks through a public park, looking at the Japanese Weeping Scholar tree, reflecting upon how the Japanese "understood things of the spirit": They disemboweled themselves when anything went wrong." Thinking that it must take great courage to stick knives into oneself took much courage, Esther remarks that her only trouble with that is she hates the sight of blood. Nevertheless, she decides to "open her veins" in the tub like one of the ancient Romans, but she cannot do it. So, she decides to cut herself for practice by letting the razor drop to her crossed leg.

I thought of getting into the tub then, but I realized my dallying had used up the better part of the morning, and that my mother would probably come home and find me before I was done.

This episode suggests her depression and her wish to sacrifice her body to end her mental torture.

In Chapter 19, having being fitted with a diaphragm because she wants to rid herself of her virginity as she feels it is a burden that she has had to defend, she seeks a sexual partner. She meets Irwin, a math professor, goes to his apartment for coffee, and decides to seduce him. Her sexual experience is painful, and Esther bleeds quite a bit, wondering if she is still a virgin.

It occurred to me that the blood was my answer....I smiled into the dark. I felt part of a great tradition.

However, Esther continues to bleed and begin hemorrhaging and has to be taken to the hospital. Rather than having been pleasurable, Esther's sexual experience has been more like ritual sacrifice. For, she has sacrificed her virginity for a peace of mind that she does not attain.

Here is a video analyzing The Bell Jar as a bildungsroman:

Sources:
susieocp's profile pic

susieocp | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

I'm sorry but there is a major error in this video analyzation of THE BELL JAR.  They talk about the character of Esther going to two different male psychiatrists for treatment, but the second doctor, Dr. Nolan, is not a man, but a woman.  The analysis in the video was based on Esther being controlled by both "men" when, in fact, it is the female doctor who is able to best help her.

I'm not sure this video should continue on your site.

Susan Collins

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