While reading the first half of The Bell Jar, I couldn’t help but draw connections between Sophie’s feelings and the dilemma facing many college students today. In The Bell Jar, Sophie is almost out of college. She is an English major living the high life with other students, but she is not quite comfortable with her situation. She feels that the road she is on is ending, and that she doesn’t have a viable option for where to go in life. She didn’t get into an advanced writing course, and she doesn’t want to marry her childhood sweetheart. She is imagining a fig tree where she has many possibilities in life, but she doesn’t know which path to take. As she spends more and more time considering her options, she feels the figs of the fig tree falling, and fewer and fewer options in her life.
Today, many students are running the race of college scholarships, high GPA, volunteerism, etc…, only to find out that the race they are winning at is now ending. They are graduating from college with high scholastic merit, only to find out that they now need to run the race of life, and that their prospects in that race are grim. Many students who graduate from college cannot find a job out of college, or that job isn’t what they were expecting and they don’t earn enough to pay off their college debt (which can total in the 30-40,000 range for undergraduate students. Graduate students are, of course, more). They feel like they are facing the fig tree of the novel, where they see so many possibilities in front of them. They may get married, move to another state (or even another country), go on for more education to *hopefully* better their chances of career achievement, or get a job that they are totally overqualified for and really don’t want. Many college students feel the sense that there is a ceiling over their heads, or that they feel squeezed from pressure. In other words, they feel that they are in the bell jar.
With that context, I can completely understand the depression this young woman feels, even though this book was written in the 1960s. It was written forty years ago, yet it can still be applied to the condition of college students today. That is why it is a modern classic. It transcends the time that it was written and is applicable to the world of today. I would not expect every college student to go further down this path, but that is her story.
Because of her mental state, Sophie feels trapped in major depressive disorder. She thinks about the many ways she can kill herself, and eventually ends up in asylums. One of the more notable (and disgusting) moments is her stirring a raw egg into raw hamburger and eating it. In this way, the book serves as a case study in abnormal psychology. We see a young woman who feels trapped in the life she is living, and her tragic venture into the depths of the human psyche. We see glimpses of how psychiatric patients were treated during the 1960s, including severe shock therapy.
Sophie is eventually let out of the asylum because her doctors feel that she is ready to go out into the world again. She feels as though she was reborn from the experience. Is she mentally able to face the world? Will she find her new path in life? We do not get the answer to this question in the book because it doesn’t show what happens to her later.
The Bell Jar is a fascinating case study of depression and mental disorders. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interesting in learning how a person at the height of their college career can end up in a mental asylum.
This book easily deserves five stars.
For another review from Jill’s Cabana Stories, click here.