Thursday, March 5, 2015

rambling thoughts about Esther's father's place in The Bell Jar

One of the main causes that triggered Esther's depression in the Bell Jar. Earlier in the novel she said the last happy moment of her life was when she was running along the beach with her father. She was about 9 years old at the time.

In chapter 13 when Esther visits her fathers grave she states that neither she nor her mother cried over her father's death. Her mother didn't even allow her children to attend her father's funeral. This sort of... repression of emotion is certainly a huge cause of Esther's depression later in the novel. It's almost as if her mother tried burying this sad emotion by pushing it down in water, and now it's bobbing back up to the surface in the form of depression. As Plath writes in her poem Daddy: "Daddy, I have tried to kill you."

Esther says her father came from "some manic-depressive hamlet in the black heart of Prussia" and we also saw her view the German language as a dark and barbed language. Her mother describes her father as being a "bitter atheist" towards the end of his life. In her poem Daddy, Plath writes:

"I have always been scared of you
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You--"

Which supports the dark picture of an authoritarian father.

Oddly, this might not seem to line up with the fact that Esther was clearly happier when her father was alive. Obviously I'm comparing Plath's poem and her novel and assuming the father is the same in both, thought that doesn't necessarily have to be the case.

One interesting way I think the poem and the novel line up is that the last line of the poem: "Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through." echoes Esther's mental state after visiting her father's gravestone because the very next scene is her pill ingestion suicide. 

Part of me wonders if he himself was depressed. It would certainly fit the dark picture of a bitter man, and the "manic-depressive hamlet in the black heart of Prussia" is impossible to ignore. Furthermore, serious depression can be genetic, so Esther's own depression is further evidence that her father may have been depressed. I'd be willing to bet a lot that he was depressed.

Do we ever get the exact reason he died? All I remember and all I can find by re-reading certain chapters is that he was admitted to the hospital and died there. However, there is a very interesting line that gives us some clues. In chapter 13 Esther is thinking about her mother's handling of the situation (her father's death):

"She had just smiled and said what a merciful thing it was for him he had died, because if he had lived he would have been crippled and an invalid for life, and he couldn't have stood that, he would rather have died than had that happen."

My theory is that he shot himself and then died later at the hospital. Or maybe he was never admitted to the hospital (I can't remember if Esther visited him there or not. If not it's possible he succeeded in killing himself instantly). Think about it. Just a little while ago we were on the beach and Esther was talking with that other dude about suicide. What was the "man's way" to kill yourself? Gunshot. What was Esther specifically worried about in regards to shotgun suicide? Not shooting the right place (blowing your face off, something not necessarily fatal) and having surgeons save you. What if her father--who we have strong evidence was depressed--had tried to kill himself ("crippled and invalid") and had later died at the hospital? Her mother didn't want her kids at the funeral. Why? She didn't want them to find out their father tried to kill himself. Further evidence for this theory or evidence against it would be greatly appreciated. 

So this blog wasn't very well organized or anything, but I have a lot of things to think about and possibly a basis for a critical analysis paper, so I'll call it a success!


  1. It starts off a little rambling maybe, but it really gets in a stride. I like this blog post yo. Your theory is very interesting, and you provide really good evidence for this. But I think that the fact that she doesn't really expand upon her relationship with her father too much is because she never got to emotionally connect with him other than the connection of a young girl playing with her dad. Her father had always been this dark, brooding guy who laughed sometimes. But either way, he was still her father, and a think a lot of the emotional conflict in regards to him stems from the fact that at a very young age, a little girl suddenly didn't have a father anymore and it was difficult thing for her to understand at first. Now, she is just left with a dark memory of him, with a few lighter ones thrown in.

  2. I don't know if you've read the poem, "The Colossus" by Plath but it's commponly interpreted as being addressed to her father who's represented as this statue. She talks about spending so much time fruitlessly trying to understand him and how the "hours are married to shadow," as she is ultimately clinging on to some unobtainable haunting past