Blast From the Past.... 3/21/96 : 'The Bell Jar'

So, I was going through some old scrapbooks that I have and I found a few neat treasures. When I was younger I used to write a lot and English was one of my better subjects. Today I found a few old school reports that I wrote years ago. So I think I might share a few of them. :)

This paper is a book report of the publication “The Bell Jar” which was originally published by Harper and Row in 1971. It is the most well known book authored by Sylvia Plath, but originally published under the name of the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. I wrote this report and turned it in on March 21, 1996 for a Psychology class in my first few semesters of college. Part one is the book report summary that I wrote, part two is my analysis and thoughts on why the book is important to the field of psychology, and part three is my full analysis and conclusions I formed on the book. I haven't changed any of the wording – I entered it exactly as written – so its interesting to see how my writing has changed over time. This report earned me 100% / A . At the time, I was so proud and pleased and while I am not sure I deserved the grade after reading it again now, I hope you enjoy it. :)

Part I - Summary
Ester Greenwood, now 19, grew up in a small town with her brother and her mother. She is now in college, which she is able to afford because of a scholarship. As a hobby, she writes essays and small stories and sends them in to win contests, which she does win quite often. After winning one contest, she was sent to New York for one month, all expenses paid, to work as a junior editor of a fashion magazine. While there, she stayed in an all-women hotel called The Amazon. Her friend, Doreen, comes from a society girls school and carried an air of sophistication. She took Ester out to go to a party and on the way they stop and allow themselves to be picked up by some guys. One of them, Lenny Shepard, took Doreen and Ester to his house and when he Doreen became notably drunk and began to make out, Ester walked home. Later, when Doreen shows up drunk at her door, Ester resolves to become better friends with another girl (Betsy) who shares more of her values. Ester does have what could be loosely termed as a 'boyfriend'. Buddy Wilkins is currently studying to be a doctor, but doesn't see her much because he caught TB and is no residing in a recovery camp. Ester doesn't think of him as her boyfriend; she simply uses him as an excuse to others and to discourage the blind dates that were often heaped upon her.

Ester goes to one of the free luncheons with Betsy and shows her love for food, especially caviar. She eats until she is stuffed and, as bad luck would have it, when it is discovered that some food at the luncheon was poisoned, Ester was the sickest girl among them. In fact, all of the twelve participants in this contest were sick, except for Doreen who had skipped the luncheon to spend time with Lenny. It is at this time that her temporary boss questions her about her plans for the future and she realizes that she doesn't know what she wants to do after college. Right now, she is having a hard time with physics and is worried sick about chemistry next semester. Through a little trickery and persuasion, however, she manages to talk the dean of the college into allowing her to take chemistry, but because she had received an 'A' the semester before in physics (and she would easily get one again in chemistry), she would not have to test for her grade. She would simply be given an 'A' at the end of the semester. It was during this semester that Buddy's mother set her up with a visitor for another country so she would show him the city. She, still being a virgin and taking a liking to the fellow, decided to seduce him. Being a gentleman, he declined her advances.

At Christmas, Mrs. Wilkins picks her up and takes her to see Buddy at TB camp. There, he asks her to marry him, but refuses him saying that she doesn't want to marry anyone. She does stay for an extra day to spend time with him and allows him to attempt to teach her to ski. She has an accident, unfortunately, and breaks her leg. She then returns to New York and packs to go home, allowing Doreen to take her out for one last party. There she meets Marco, her first 'woman hater.' He is bitter because he is in love with his first cousin who is going to become a nun. He later tries to force himself on her and when she struggles and begins to cry, leaves very disgusted with her. She then goes and gets on a train for home.

After returning home, her mother informs her that she was not accepted into the writing class that she has depended on. She becomes depressed and when Buddy pushes her to come see him again, she terminates the relationship. She then goes through a period of indecisiveness where she starts and quits a novel, her thesis and other ideas. When she goes to see the family doctor about a stronger dose of sleeping medication, she is referred to Dr. Gordon, a psychiatrist.

After displaying no thought about personal hygiene or safety, Dr. Gordon starts her on Daily therapy sessions. Later, he tries shock therapy. After one dose, she tells her mother that she will not go again, which makes her mother very happy. During this time, an old friend sets her up with a young man named Cal with whom she discreetly brings up the subject of suicide and discusses with him the best ways to carry it out. After experimenting a few times and realizing that her body's defense mechanisms would always try and stop her, she stole her sleeping pills from her mothers lockbox and hid herself in the basement. She then took as many as she could before passing out. She is later found alive and taken to the hospital.

P. Ginea, a famous novelist, discovers what happened to her young fan and has her moved to a private psychiatric hospital. Here, she is given medication and ends up gaining a lot of weight. She also gets a new doctor named Dr. Nolan. In this place, she finds Joan, an old acquaintance that she had met in school and finds some common ground and insight into herself. She received a few more sessions of shock therapy and is then moved to Belside, the house for those who were almost 'cured' and would b sent back out into the outside world. Here, she is allowed to go to town where she meets Irwin. They date a few times and she decides to seduce him, which she later does. A complication from this painful act sends her to the emergency room. Later on, she is given the news that Joan has killed herself. A few weeks later she is taken to her interview that will release that will release her again to the outside world.

Part II – Importance to the Field of Psychology

I chose this book for many reasons. Most of the books on the provided list I had already read in my high school classes. I wanted a book that I hadn't read before, but also a book that might give me some insight into myself. I had no idea what topics this book discussed when I picked it up. I figured that if I didn't like it or it was too boring I could always get a different book.

Even though I really didn't enjoy the book, this book did appeal to me because of the wide range of topics it touched on. From motivation, behavior, social skills, to its main theme of depression, this book made me stop and wonder how I would deal with the same situations. The thing I liked best about the book was that it was written as if we were sitting in Ester's head and just listening to her thoughts and looking through her eyes. This made it almost impossible to tell when she first became depressed and how her disease progressed until you realize that she is extremely depressed and is thinking of killing herself.

The chapter that I thought best represents the whole book was chapter thirteen: Psychopathology. This chapter discusses many different kinds of mental illness or disorders and includes depression in this category. On page 512 of the required text, the entire page is dedicated to showing research that has been done on depression and what causes suicide. The book states that “while most depressed people do not commit suicide, most suicides are attempted by depressed people.” This suggests that if depression is found early enough in individuals and alleviated, we will have found a solution to our problem of the rise of suicide. Depression is most commonly brought about by failures, trauma or stress. The chapter also discusses signs and symptoms so you can recognize what depression is and what o do if you or anyone you know needs help. Reading this book also helped give me a perspective I have never had (and hopefully never will) and I hope it will make me more understanding to others in my environment when they just need a little boost.

Part III - Analysis and Conclusions

In all fairness, I would not have chosen this book as one of the books I have read for fun. Most books I chose to read allow me to escape from my life and find some comfort in a 'fantasy world' for a short period of time. I can't honestly say I enjoyed this book, but I can say that this book gave me some insight into a topic that I really hadn't thought of. I was able to follow Ester into her 'world' and feel with her, but I was detached enough so that I can see where rational thought ended and she gave herself up to depression.

The subject of depression will be pondered and studied for many years to come. Even in our advanced society, depression is hard to diagnose and very high percentages are never treated. Even though Ester was a fictional character, she was easy to identify with. To me, she represented the average person; just an individual trying to stay afloat in all the stress and worry of everyday life. I feel that this is a very important subject for many reasons. As technology becomes more advanced and human beings are competing for jobs with computers, problems with self esteem and uniqueness will occur. People will not feel able to compete with a machine that will never be sick, always be smarter, never too tired to work, and whose only weakness is that it must be attached an energy source. Problems at home will never cause it to low down and it will take little notice of small aggravations that you will find in the average workplace (mis-communication, personality conflicts, etc...) I believe that this will cause a rise in depression and other mental disorders.

In conclusion, I have to wonder about the author. After reading a little on her life from an autobiography, I admire her for trying to create a work like this. Any attempt to share feelings to try and enrich other generations is a noble cause. But one thought came to my mind and is nagging me for an answer which I can supply; was this book a cry for help from the author? Did she feel trapped and felt no hope? The autobiography says that she ended her own life. I just wonder why no one close to her, when reading her book, didn't notice similarities or suspect anything. Maybe she too, like so many others would still be alive today if someone had heard her cry for help.

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