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

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

An analysis of the symbol of water in the context of Esther's belief in the positive effects of a hot bath reveals early clues into Esther's descent into madness.

The bathtub, which is a confining space, offers Esther a venue for her own acts of cleansing; in the bath, she is able to cleanse herself both literally, ridding her body of dirt and germs, and figuratively, ridding her spirit of negativity and fear. These acts of cleansing seem positive in a superficial sense, but eventually, Esther must leave the confinement of the bath and re-enter the world that presents her with so much difficulty and potential for impurity. The confining nature of the full bathtub parallels the confining nature of the title's bell jar, an instrument that locks the contents of the jar away, isolating the contents. Isolation is a key feature of Esther's mental problems; therefore, her experience of confinement in the bathtub may actually be more sinister that its cleansing properties suggest.

As well, the...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 698 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team