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“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath: Plot and Thesis


In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath authors a story about herself. The life of Esther Greenwood, who aspires to be a poet, is depicted in The Bell Jar as she tries to realize her ambitions via education, using Ladies’ Day magazine as a starting point. She chose a month-long summer job at the Ladies’ Day magazine in New York, although she struggled with questions of identity and social conventions during her time there. Even though Esther qualifies for everything that a young woman desires, her life goes the opposite due to her desire to want everything to be perfect. Her life became miserable throughout the story due to her dissatisfaction and hopelessness.

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She hesitates only to follow one dream and compares her life to a fig tree which symbolizes ambition, dreams, and goals. She avoids choosing either for fear of losing the rest of the twigs. Sylvia Plath makes the readers visualize a young woman under a fig tree full of figs and shows how she hesitates to pick the figs. Thus, the dreams, goals, and ambition got rotten and dropped to her fit. After realizing the world’s limitations and happiness, Esther secludes herself from the world to a place where death is tormenting.

The Bell Jar Thesis

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is full of fascinating imagery and metaphors. The fig tree is the most iconic symbolic image that torments the protagonist Esther. In the story about a nun and a man who was a Jew, Esther first experiences the fig tree (55) “The particular fig tree grew amid a Jewish person’s house and a monastery on a verdant lawn…” “I could see my life thriving out before me, such as the green fig tree in the story,” she says later, as she mulls over her career opportunities and becomes concerned about her future (77). A great future motioned from the tips of every shrub, gleaming like a fat violet pig. A charming family with children was represented by one fig, a renowned poet by another, a brilliant instructor by still another, and Ee Gee, the outstanding copyreader, by yet another fig.

The alternative figure presented the Europen, African, and South American continents, as well as Constantine, Socrates, Attila, and a slew of other companions with odd names and odd occupations and an Olympian female crew winner. “I could not really tell if there were any additional figs past and above these.” “Because I couldn’t decide which figs I preferred, I imagined myself starving to death in the fig tree’s trunk. I wanted them all, but picking one would mean missing out on the others, and while as I remained there, still unable to make a choice, the figs began to twist and become black, eventually falling at my feet one by one.”

Esther is concerned about the multiple chances accessible in that section, believing that she will be unable to pursue the others if she chooses one. Because women are unable to be both career-driven and mothers, society pressures them to select one path. On the other hand, the fig tree is conflicting because it can be interpreted as an optimistic symbol of life’s endless potential. Esther, on the other hand, is daunted by the abundance of choices because she feels she should only have one (Rymarz and Starkey). The fig tree’s divided nature symbolizes Esther’s emotional conflict amid adhering to the traditional position of a young lady in New York and her wish to be an individual.

Even though the fig tree depicts the struggles of young ladies in the community, Esther’s reluctance to select a job path or a future proves her indecisive thinking. Esther is paralyzed by the fig tree, which compels her to see herself die of hunger, foreshadowing her later trying to kill herself (77). That also warns the reader of the gravity of her mental illness and her incapacity to make decisions. Esther observes her activities from a distance, meaning that her intellect is not in agreement with her actions. The disassociation could indicate that she is either unattached to or in denial about the portions of herself that are mentally ill.

‘Esther’s unwillingness to make judgments about her destiny has a connection with her unfavorable view of herself and her idea that she is incompetent to make such a choice. “The problem was, I’d always been insufficient; I just hadn’t realized it.” In comprehending how her illness negatively impacts her thinking processes, Tank’s perspective stresses Esther’s personal fight, which is more essential than society’s effect. Many women were confronted with the limits of gender, as Perloff stated, but few of them agonized with mental well-being issues (81), “I could not really take the thought of a lady having to live a single pure life when a guy might live two lives, one destitute and the other not.” This raises the likelihood that emotional disorder is a result of an individual’s thoughts and personality as it is a result of cultural forces.

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The fig’s symbolism enlarges Esther’s internal anguish; she designates the fig as “plump” and “purple,” implying that it is unusual and Mediterranean. Purple is generally connected with monarchy, luxury, and money, implying that the choices are first pleasurable owing to the abundance of options. Furthermore, figs are delicious, meaning that the positive correlations suggest Esther is originally motivated by wealth. At the conclusion of the segment, the figs shrivel and turn black, diminishing their production, signifying Esther’s uncertainties and the loss of all options. Esther’s shift as she gets deeper into misery later in the story is represented by this alteration. The inside of a fig conjures up images of sensuality and is associated with reproduction and feminine genitalia. The Greek word for fig (sykon) is the synonym of the word vulva, creating a clear relationship between the two and giving the reader a sexual image.

The associations can be used with Esther, still a virgin, because she is grappling with her sexual identity. She has never had a healthy relationship with a man or had strong enough contact with a woman to discuss these issues. According to the Bible, Adam and Eve hid inside the leaves of a fig tree to hide their shame for eating the forbidden fruit. As a result, by linking these sacred connotations to Esther’s ambiguity, it is implied that Esther is ashamed of her uncertainty. Although societal forces can inspire Esther’s outlook on the future, the representation of figs shows that her inner fight and anxiety source her to have such a pessimistic picture of her life to come.


In conclusion, individuals should know that everything cannot be achieved at once; they should be patient and take it to step by step. When Esther saw the fig trees, she was unable to decide that she wanted to have all of them, keeping in mind that choosing one meant losing the rest. Being content is the source of happiness for individuals; since Esther wanted all the things that she could not get, she led a miserable and dissatisfied life. There will be limitations whenever one wants to achieve a dream or career, but it is important not to give up but fight till it is achieved.

Work Cited

Rymarz, Richard, and Janina Starkey. “Only She Can Teach It! Investigating Exemplary RE Teachers”. Journal Of Religious Education, vol 69, no. 2, 2021, pp. 209-218. Springer Science And Business Media LLC.

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