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Death Imagery in “The Bell Jar”

One of the most interesting motifs of the novel is death's presence in the imagery that develops during the evolution of the narrative.

When returning home Esther exists in a state of stagnation. “I crawled between the mattress and the padded bedspread and let the mattress fall across me like a tombstone.” (p. 101) Here Esther is likening her bed to a grave. In life she is tries to escape the world around her through sleep, in the same way she sees dying as the ultimate lasting escape from the world.

Even on her day at the beach this type of imagery remains in her thoughts “I saw a shark’s teeth and whales’ bones littered about down there like gravestones.” (p. 125) Again she brings to the reader's attention that her thoughts are of death. At this moment she is deciding if she should drown herself, but rather than make the choice herself she is waiting for a sign from the sea.

The image of the funeral procession seems to be the next allusion of death used by Esther: “...Grinea’s black Cadillac eased through the tight, five o’ clock traffic like a ceremonial car.” (p. 151) She is being taken to a private hospital for further examination of her illness. In the term “ceremonial car” and the Cadillac’s color, Esther seems to associate this to a hearse carrying the mourners and the dead to a funeral.

Through these images the reader finds that Esther has developed an unhealthy preoccupation with death. She desires to 'wipe herself clean', but something always stops her from completing her suicide. In the end it is not clear that eventually she will not.