The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar Madness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.
From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked [...] I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. (7.20-21)
One aspect of Esther's depression is that she feels paralyzed, unable to act. The fig tree here represents all of the possibilities for action that she just can't muster up the initiative to pursue.
A small answering point in my body flew toward it. I felt my lungs inflate with the inrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, "This is what it is to be happy."
I plummed down past the zigzaggers, the students, the experts, through year after year of doubleness and smiles and compromise, into my own past. (7.121-122)
While Esther is certainly mentally ill, she experiences moments of almost visionary clarity, such as the one described in this passage. It is this clarity that comes through when she makes her biting critique of the hypocrisy of modern society. Her experience suggests that her "madness" is not an either/or kind of thing, but a composite of physiological, emotional, and social factors. Simply put, both Esther and society contribute to her suicidal depression.
I made out men and women, and boys and girls who must be as young as I, but there was a uniformity to their faces, as if they had lain for a long time on a shelf, out of the sunlight, under siftings of pale, fine dust. (12.9)
The "uniformity" of these patients is distressing when you consider that Dr. Gordon, who runs the institution, also happens to be prone to uniformity, as seen when he repeats the things he said about Esther's college. These patients basically represent how even "sane" or "normal" people are trapped in habits and routines.