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A Comparison of Joan Gilling and Esther Greenwoods in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar

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A Comparison of Joan Gilling and Esther Greenwoods in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar


Have you ever heard of the term “doppelgănger”? If not, it means “double” in German. To say that the character, Joan Gilling, is Esther Greenwoods “double” in the novel “The Bell Jar”, by Sylvia Plath, would be an understatement. Esther and Joan are one in the same. Joan and Esther endure many of the same obstacles throughout the novel. Joan’s actions to these struggles ultimately make Esther come to terms with reality. Either change her ways, and move on with her life, or end up like Joan, dead.
In the novel, Esther Greenwood, the main character, is a young woman, from a small town, who wins a writing competition, and is sent to New York for a month to work for a magazine. Esther struggles throughout the story to discover who she truly is. She is very pessimistic about life and has many insecurities about how people perceive her. Esther is never genuinely happy about anything that goes on through the course of the novel. When she first arrives at her hotel in New York, the first thing she thinks people will assume about her is, “Look what can happen in this country, they’d say. A girl lives in some out-of-the-way town for nineteen years, so poor she can’t afford a

magazine, and then she gets a scholarship to college and wins a prize here and a prize there and ends up steering New York like her own private car”(Plath 2).
Like Esther, Joan Gilling grew up in the same small town; she also won the writing competition and was sent to New York to work for the same magazine. Joan was also very conscious about how the world identified her as an individual. She didn’t want to conform to what society sa...


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...she would end up if she didn’t change her ways. By losing Joan, Esther was able to release her old self and be reborn again.
In the end of the novel, Esther at last, comes to terms with reality. She has got to stop living her life according to what others expect of her. She needs to start living her life for “her”. After Joan commits suicide, Esther believes that unless she turns her life around, she will also commit suicide. Esther saw so much of herself in Joan, that when Joan ended her life she was frightened that she would follow in her footsteps, due to the fact that she had throughout the entire novel. Once Joan was gone, Esther was truly free. The part of Joan that was reflected in Esther vanished. The “bell jar” that had been suffocating her was finally lifted.

Works Cited
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York: Harper and Row, 1998. Print.


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