I happened to read The Bell Jar for my book group discussion for the month of November and instantly fell in love with the book. More than anything else I think it was Esther and her descriptions that absolutely gripped me from the very first word.
While reading the book, many times I tried to question my own sanity and what I was going through and quite surprisingly this book I felt dealt with so many issues that we all go through some or the other time in our lives. Esther’s struggle with issues and people around her gave me an inkling into what was I facing with people around me. It’s not more of madness than being sane that made me love this book and what it stands for – probably suffocation, probably the need to get away so many times when we are unable to do so. The probability of meeting someone nice and sensitive which never really works that way.
Grappling with oneself and situations can be quite a thing to undertake. Most of the times, many of us choose to push things under the rug without paying attention to our thoughts and problems. Esther on the other hand chooses to look inside and find answers which probably is best summed up in the following lines from the book,
“How did I know that someday–at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere–the bell jar, with it’s stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”
This quote becomes all the more poignant when one discovers that only a month after The Bell Jar, her first novel, was published, Sylvia Plath took her own life. One wonders if things would have been different had she lived today. All in all The Bell Jar is one of the books in my life, which I will never let go…
It’s the temperature at which paper burns said the first page of the book and I knew it having read it earlier, and yet I chose this book to be re-read. It has only instilled my faith further in the power of words and what can they do. Writers such as Bradbury and Orwell who have written on the totalitarian society and how a group of people stand and fight it, may be somewhere at some point done the same and that is what which amazes me.
I first read this novella (190 pages and yes I am aware that the technical definition would not allow it to be classified it as a novella, however I chose to call it that) when I was 16 and was enthralled by it. Guy Montag’s transformation from a fireman who burns books and takes pleasure in it to the one who savors the written word and wants to save books and thereby his soul is brilliant. Bradbury did not dream the future when he wrote Fahrenheit 451, the future actually was here. Right now. Look around you. Aren’t we burning books by banning them anyway? I am sure in certain parts of the world people are not at liberty to read (Afghanistan being one such place). I wonder how my life would be if someone were to barge in my house and burn down my books. I would either kill myself or the person in the bargain. It would be the latter in all probability.
What I loved about the book this time, is that I understood the layers involved, which I hadn’t earlier. It is not only about book censorship, it is about censorship period. The part in the book when Guy is raving mad at a bunch of women who think nothing beyond their husbands and “families” who can now be viewed on huge TV Screens and how he reads poetry to them and one of the women starts crying. I would like to believe that the tears were for a lost tradition amongst them. That of reading. The joy of thinking. The freedom to speak without editing a word.
I can say one thing though – Books can never be extinct. Try as you might. Try hard if you will. Just try.