Examine the various reasons for Esther`s suicide attempts in The bell Jar.
One of the main reasons why Esther tried to commit suicide was the way she perceived her mother’s actions, and the fact that she hates her mother:
`”I hate her”, I said, and waited for the blow to fall.`
she obviously believes that hating her mother is wrong, as she expected the doctor to react negatively to her comment.
Throughout the novel, her mother has contributed to Esther`s problems. From Esther`s point of view, consequences of her mother’s actions have lead to further problems for her. It was her mother who denied Esther the right to go to her father’s funeral:
`My mother hadn’t let us come to his funeral because we were only children then, and he had died in hospital, so the graveyard and even his death seemed unreal to me.`
The fact that Esther couldn’t really accept her father’s death contributed to career problems: she had no idea of what to do with her life, she `thought that if my father hadn’t died he would have taught me….`
Before visiting New York and getting thrown into the real world Esther had been very successful academically:
`I had already taken a course in botany and done very well. I never answered one test question wrong all year.`
Because of her perfectionist attitude, Esther was surprised to hear herself say that she didn’t know what her career plans were:
`Usually I had these plans on the tip of my tongue.
“I don’t really know”, I heard myself say. I felt a deep shock, hearing myself say that, because the minute I said it, I knew it was true.`
She claims that she has `always wanted to learn German` although `the very sight of those dense, black, barbed-wire letters made my mind shut like a clam`. Esther associates the language with her `German-speaking father`, who `cane from some manic-depressive hamlet in the black heart of Prussia’. I think that Esther`s stunt in progress is directly linked to the death of her father, and the little that she knows about him, and that a major factor contributing to her eventual suicide attempt is the fact that she used to be the best and no longer can be.
Esther also associates the death of her father with her happiness:
`I was only purely happy until I was nine years old. After that – in spite of the girl scouts and piano lessons… all of which my mother scrimped to give me…. I had never been really happy again’
this quotation shows that Esther always feels that her mother is doing the wrong thing.
The death of her father when she was so young also contributes, I think, to Esther`s problems with men. She is judgmental, especially about men:
`The thought of dancing with that little runt in his.. mingy T-shirt… made me laugh. If there’s anything to look down on it’s a man in a blue outfit.’
I think that because she was not old enough to find fault with her father before he died, she is frequently comparing men with his perfect image.
Esther does not seem to have much success with men and this could be a contributing factor to her suicide attempt; although there are many examples of Esther trying to have a relationship, such as with Buddy Willard, Constantin and Eric, none are successful:
`… of all the blind dates I`d had that year not one had called me up for a second date. I just didn’t have any luck. I hated coming down stairs… and finding some pale mushroomy fellow with protruding ears or buck teeth or a bad leg. I didn’t think I deserved it.’
One factor which contributes to her problems with men is her under confidence and feeling of inadequacy:
`when I was with him I had to work to keep my head above water.’
Throughout the novel, especially at the beginning, Esther suffers an inferiority complex:
`I didn’t have any illusions. I knew perfectly well he’d come for Doreen.’
I believe that this idea of inadequacy contributed to the development of her mental illness:
`I felt dreadfully inadequate. The problem was that I`d been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.’
There is evidence that her mother contributed to this feeling of inadequacy:
`My mother had laughed at me…’
Esther`s mother does not seem to want to face Esther`s problems and seems to put off facing up to them for as long as possible. She is not sympathetic towards Esther and `said the cure for thinking too much about yourself was helping someone who was worse off than you’, suggesting that Esther sign up as a volunteer at her local hospital. This shows that Esther`s mother is avoiding Esther`s mental problems.
Throughout the novel, Esther`s perfectionist attitude shows through quite clearly. For example, when she is supposed to be handing out the flowers at the hospital she`noticed that a lot of the flowers were droopy and brown at the edges’ and `steered the trolley in a wash basin in the alcove in the hall and began to pick out all the flowers that were dead.’ This also shows that Esther can be pedantic, even obsessive.
A further example from earlier in the novel, which also shows some of the first signs of Esther`s depression, validates this:
`Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep… I slump down so far and then say: “I`ll go take a hot bath.”‘
she goes on to express how the water needs to be very hot, so hot you can barely stand putting your foot in it’.
Esther shows that she is obsessed with this scenario:
`I remember the ceilings over every bath tub I’ve stretched out in. I remember the texture of the ceilings and the cracks and the colours and the damp spots and the light fixtures..’
the fact that she remembers so many of the details, or that she claims to, means that she must be depressed quite often in order to go through the ritual of “purification” that she describes. I believe that Esther`s obsessive and perfectionist attitude could be evidence of the beginnings of her mental illness, which leads to her suicide attempt.
There are many factors which contributed to Esthers final suicide attempt. these include her perfectionist outlook; her inferiority complex; that fact that she was denied the right to say goodbye to her father; the way she perceives her mother’s attitude towards her; the relationships with men which have failed. However, I believe that all her problems stem from her father’s death and her mother’s way of dealing with his death. I believe these are the main factors which caused her severe depression, which lead to her suicide attempts.