Monday 17 October 2011

Monday morning book thoughts...

I think this will be a brief post, but I wanted to talk about the book group's discussion of The Bell Jar before I forgot what we said.  I may post again later in the week with other book thoughts.

I had nearly a full house on Saturday to discuss The Bell Jar, which was a positive sign in itself.  We caught up on a few housekeeping details then launched into the discussion of the book.  Most of the book club members thought that it was depressing to read this and to know that the author, Plath, really did make several unsuccessful attempts to commit suicide and one final attempt that was successful, but that the book itself ended on a hopeful note.  Some had read the book before, but not all, so this was a new reading experience for some members.  We then talked about depression, and the prevalence of this mental health condition among women, particularly among teens and young adults, and what types of responses people suffering this condition have been and are still met with.  In the book, the main character, Esther Greenwood, experiences signs and symptoms of what we would now recognize as clinical depression as a young woman.  She is treated by electro-shock therapy which is done incorrectly by her first psychiatrist.  Her situation does not seem to be taken seriously by her mother, who comments to Esther that "I knew you'd decide to be alright again", and later by her friend Joan, who may or may not be a real character in the book. When she goes on to attempt suicide, she is transferred to a psychiatric hospital where she undergoes shock treatments again, but these are done correctly and explained to her by her new psychiatrist. These treatments are effective in alleviating Esther's symptoms, as she feels the "bell jar" lifting and hanging slightly above her, instead of trapping her in her own "sour air" as was her previous perception.  This is really a novel of its time, exploring the changing roles and expectations of women in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the misconceptions and stigma that surround mental health issues then and now.  Despite the fact that we were discussing a book that made it to the list of the Top Ten Bleakest Books according to AbeBooks (see link at right sidebar), I was surprised at how much laughter accompanied our discussion, particularly when discussing Buddy and his desire to show Esther his "equipment" and her response to this display (which may cause depression in men - just kidding!!).  I was pleasantly surprised by the response to the book, and the varied topics that arose in our discussion.  I give credit to my group members for being so open-minded and willing to read and discuss books that they may not have necessarily chosen to read on their own. 

I think I'll close for now, as I'm running out of time, but I wanted to be sure to encourage any who are shying away from reading The Bell Jar for fear that it is too depressing to go ahead and read it!  It's an interesting read and ends in a way that gives the reader hope for the main character.

Bye for now!

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