The Bell Jar: Now and Then

This blog post explores the reasons why I chose to produce a book trailer for Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Relevance

Published in the 1960s and set in 1950s New York, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s seminal novel. Nearly fifty years on, the book still resonates, reflecting on issues associated with gender, class, and mental illness; these themes even more prevalent in societal discourses today. As Grocott (2013) States:

‘Plath’s description of Esther’s disintegration into mental breakdown has lost none of its power… depression is characterised by scraping away the veneer of acceptability, scratching beneath the surface and seeing life for perhaps what it truly is. When we are well, wrapped up in our serotonin blankets we see our existence as busy and fruitful. When the carapace is removed we view life as futile and worthless. Plath captures this perfectly’

Moss describes the way Plath explores her ‘crisis of identity, sexuality, and survival are grim, and often funny’ (Moss, 1971). The air of humour and sarcasm throughout The Bell Jar renders it much more relatable, in my opinion. Through my trailer, I wanted to try and bring this seminal text into the present day, particularly for young adults, as an important text in its exploration of identity, sexuality, and mental health. Although a potentially distressing piece of semi-autobiographical work, I believe there’s a salience in Plath’s writing.

Exploration of feminism

As Grocott notes, ‘Plath has explored the position of women in society and forced us to evaluate it’ (Grocott, 2013). This reinforces why I chose to produce a book trailer for The Bell Jar. With the centenary of the women’s suffrage this year, it felt an appropriate time to reflect on Plath’s experiences as a women in 1950s New York. Throughout the novel, we see her constant battle with the expectations placed upon her; we see her question her sexuality and feel her lack of belonging. With an increasing focus on sex and gender politics in the present day, Plath’s work offers readers an insight into her lived experiences from over forty years ago. We can see how far we have come, but also how far there still is to go in accepting, and embracing, differences.

Visual potential

Finally, I saw much visual potential in The Bell Jar to be translated into film; the most intriguing of which became Plath’s imagery of the fig tree.

‘Esther visualises the tree, ripe with sexual symbolism too, as a tree of choices; each fig representing a different role… Esther believes that she may only take one fig; she sees herself “sitting in the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death”. Saying ‘I wanted each and every one of them but choosing one meant losing all the rest’…’

(Grocott, 2013)

As a new-comer to film making generally, I became excited by the abstract. I wanted to create a piece which embodied the novel itself, mesmerising and uncomfortable. This atmosphere of discomfort particularly inspired a sequence of shots of Esther cutting up figs, alluding to the tree itself. The sequence is odd to watch; Esther slices through the figs with a knife, almost mechanically, smearing the innards across the table. It is almost awkward to watch, but perhaps my favourite part of the trailer. As Moss states, ‘[p]ain and gore are endemic to The Bell Jar, and they are described objectively, self-mockingly, almost humorously to begin with (Moss, 1971). This gore aspect is emphasised by the sequence.

Despite all the old sayings, the absolute first thing that drew me to Plath’s book was the cover – a beautiful gold foiled spiral on a black background. Humorously, this cover would end up being the biggest technical difficulty I would have in post-production, due to its unavoidable reflection of the green screen. Although a great choice overall, maybe you truly shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.

Sources Used

Grocott, K. 2013. ‘Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar still haunts me’ The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/9793589/Sylvia-Plaths-Bell-Jar-still-haunts-me.html [Last accessed 12 November 2018]

Moss, H. 1971. ‘Dying: An Introduction: The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1971/07/10/dying-an-introduction-howard-moss [Last accessed 11 November 2018]

Plath, S. 1963. The Bell Jar. London: Faber & Faber

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