The Bell Jar Questions and Answers
by Sylvia Plath

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

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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.

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