Esther’s mother struggles with financial difficulties as well. “My own mother wasn’t much help. My mother had taught shorthand and typing to support us ever since my father died, and secretly she hated it and hated him for dying and leaving no money because he didn’t trust life insurance salesmen. She was always on to me to learn shorthand after college, so I’d have a practical skill as well as a college degree.” (Plath, 40-41). It is a high possibility that Sylvia Plath unconsciously criticizes Esther’s mother and grandmother of being in a more protective attitude which is caused by their economic conditions. Considering that the period is the 1950s, it is difficult for a woman to find a high waged job. Hence, the economy of the household is a matter of survival for women. Esther is the new generation who barely witness the difficulties of WWII and she is not mature enough to empathize with neither her mother nor her grandmother. As a result, she blames the elder women of her family as being stingy or angry. Without apprehending the economic struggle of women, especially in an age where women still don’t have the equal rights in work life, it is impossible for a young woman to comprehend those elder women’s tough attitudes causality.
Hence, Mrs. Willard, Esther’s mother, and grandmother become a symbol of maternity, a trait Esther tries to get rid of. She feels disconnected to the elders and her sadness expands.
Although Esther is pursuing a writing career she never feels integrated into New York’s fashionable atmosphere for “decent” women and criticizes the artificial world of cover girls. Still, during daily life, she wears a mask and takes on her social roles. Her effort to embrace the role of a sophisticated woman as a guest editor in a renowned fashion magazine doubles her struggles. She believes neither her mother nor her grandmother is a role model for her. Esther is a woman who wants to be independent of men and all the “feminine” expectations of the society. But it is not an easy way for a lower/middle-class woman to find a path when even your mother does not trust your writing skill and recommend you learn shorthand so you can find a job as a secretary. That’s why, though she is critical to those high-class New Yorker women, she is still looking for Jay Cee’s –the editor of Ladies’ Magazine, a higher class woman- compassion to show her a way. “I sat quietly in my swivel chair for a few minutes and thought about Jay Cee. I tried to imagine what it would be like if I were Ee Gee, the famous editor, in an office full of potted rubber plants and African violets my secretary had to water each morning. I wished I had a mother like Jay Cee. Then I’d know what to do” (Plath, 40).
Spending a lifetime with women like her mother and grandmother who are devoted to survival, Philomena Guinea is like a fresh breath for Esther. To overcome her mental struggles which are caused by both environmental factors and her effort to build up herself as a writer her guardian angel comes with a telegram: “Mrs. Guinea had telegrammed, “Is there a boy in the case?”
If there was a boy in the case, Mrs. Guinea couldn’t, of course, have anything to do with it.
But my mother had telegrammed back, “No, it is Esther’s writing. She thinks she will never write again.”” (Plath, 196). Mrs. Guinea is the character who shows the path to exit from depression since she is a writer who had been in an asylum as well. She is like the future self of Esther.
Esther’s disappointment about women ends up when she meets Dr. Nolan. Her words give the hint of future relief: “I didn’t think they had woman psychiatrists. This woman was a cross between Myrna Loy and my mother” (Plath, 197). The resemblance of Dr. Nolan to her mother is the first clue of a way out from the bell jar.
Her critical approach to women eases up as Joan, her friend at the asylum and Buddy’s ex-girlfriend before Esther, opens her heart to Esther. She consults to whom she trusts, to Dr. Nolan, at the dawn of a possible sisterhood: “”I don’t see what women see in other women,” I’d told Doctor Nolan in my interview that noon. “What does a woman see in a woman that she can’t see in a man?”
Doctor Nolan paused. Then she said, “Tenderness.”
That shut me up.” (Plath, 231)
Her point of view of maternity is in contradiction with her depression. She is the one who needs to be taking care of that’s why she is alienated to babies.
“How easy having babies seemed to the women around me! Why was I so unmaternal and apart?
If I had to wait on a baby all day, I would go mad” (Plath, 234).
Considering the time “The Bell Jar” was written, there is not enough discourse developed for the problems of women as a class. Since Esther is depressed, she feels like a stillborn in a jar and she is not aware of many other women are struggling the same issues. The society is not ready for women like Esther yet and it is a thread with its critical approach to the women. That’s why, she is in search of a mother, the only safe space she knew. After the process in the asylum, she is being reborn with a mother-like character’s (Dr. Nolan’s) hand on her shoulder. As an infant, maternity is not an option for Esther. All her creative energy is needed in her own recreation and probably future writing. Maternity and pursuing a career is still a problematic topic in the contemporary world. That’s why Esther’s naive rebellion against patriarchy is beyond history and still has a strong influence on women all over the world.
“The Problem That Has No Name.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 100, no. 9, 2010, pp. 1582–1584., doi:10.2105/ajph.100.9.1582.
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. Faber and Faber, 1966.