Symbolism in Sylvia Plaths Initiation

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About this sample


Words: 578 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Mar 25, 2024

Words: 578|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Mar 25, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Body Paragraphs
  3. Counterarguments
  4. Conclusion
  5. References


Sylvia Plath's semi-autobiographical novel, "The Bell Jar," is a poignant exploration of a young woman's struggle with mental illness and her quest for identity. One of the most striking features of the novel is Plath's use of symbolism to convey complex themes and emotions. This essay will focus on the symbolism in "The Bell Jar," with a particular emphasis on the bell jar itself, the fig tree, and the color red. By examining these symbols, we will gain a deeper understanding of Plath's portrayal of mental illness, societal expectations, and the protagonist's journey towards self-discovery.

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Body Paragraphs

The bell jar is the most prominent symbol in the novel, representing the protagonist's mental illness and her sense of suffocation and entrapment. The bell jar is described as a "stifling, opaque glass" that descends upon Esther, cutting her off from the world and distorting her perception of reality. This metaphor powerfully conveys the debilitating effects of depression, which can make the sufferer feel isolated, disconnected, and unable to breathe.

The fig tree is another important symbol in the novel, representing the various paths that Esther could take in her life, such as marriage, motherhood, and career. However, the fig tree also symbolizes the societal expectations and pressures that weigh heavily on Esther, making her feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by indecision. The image of the figs withering and falling from the tree reflects Esther's fear of missing out on life's opportunities and her sense of loss and regret.

The color red is a recurring motif in the novel, symbolizing both life and death. On the one hand, red represents vitality, passion, and creativity, as seen in Esther's fascination with the color and her desire to write. On the other hand, red also represents violence, bloodshed, and destruction, as seen in Esther's suicide attempts and her obsession with death. The dual nature of the color red reflects Esther's ambivalence towards life and her struggle to find a balance between her creative impulses and her self-destructive tendencies.


One potential counterargument is that Plath's use of symbolism is too obscure and open to interpretation, making it difficult to discern her intended meaning. However, this ambiguity can also be seen as a strength of Plath's writing, as it allows readers to engage with the text on a deeper level and to bring their own experiences and perspectives to the interpretation of the symbols.

Another potential counterargument is that Plath's use of symbolism is overly deterministic, suggesting that Esther's fate is predetermined by external forces beyond her control. However, this interpretation overlooks the fact that Esther ultimately finds the strength to resist the bell jar and to forge her own path, suggesting that the symbols in the novel are not static but dynamic, reflecting Esther's evolving state of mind and her growing sense of agency.


In conclusion, the symbolism in Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" is a powerful tool for exploring complex themes and emotions related to mental illness, societal expectations, and the quest for identity. By examining the bell jar, the fig tree, and the color red, we gain valuable insights into Esther's inner world and her struggle to find meaning and purpose in her life. Despite potential criticisms, the symbolism in "The Bell Jar" remains a rich and rewarding subject for literary analysis, offering a nuanced and multifaceted portrayal of the human experience.


Plath, S. (1963). The Bell Jar. Heinemann.

Wagner-Martin, L. (1988). Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life. Palgrave Macmillan.

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Axelrod, S. (2000). Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words. Palgrave Macmillan.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Symbolism In Sylvia Plaths Initiation. (2024, March 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from
“Symbolism In Sylvia Plaths Initiation.” GradesFixer, 25 Mar. 2024,
Symbolism In Sylvia Plaths Initiation. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 Apr. 2024].
Symbolism In Sylvia Plaths Initiation [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Mar 25 [cited 2024 Apr 20]. Available from:
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