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The Bell Jar book cover
The Bell Jar › Quotes

The Bell Jar Quotes

If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.
I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.
I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, "This is what it is to be happy.
The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born again.
If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I'm neurotic as hell. I'll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.
The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it.
When they asked me what I wanted to be I said I didn’t know. "Oh, sure you know," the photographer said. "She wants," said Jay Cee wittily, "to be everything.
There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.
To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.
There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room. It's like watching Paris from an express caboose heading in the opposite direction--every second the city gets smaller and smaller, only you feel it's really you getting smaller and smaller and lonelier and lonelier, rushing away from all those lights and excitement at about a million miles an hour.
I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.
because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.
I was supposed to be having the time of my life.
That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.
I didn't know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of the throat and I'd cry for a week.
But when it came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defensless that I couldn't do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn't in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get.
I couldn’t see the point of getting up. I had nothing to look forward to.
I felt wise and cynical as all hell.
The floor seemed wonderfully solid. It was comforting to know I had fallen and could fall no farther.
Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.
I told him I believed in hell, and that certain people, like me, had to live in hell before they died, to make up for missing out on it after death, since they didn't believe in life after death, and what each person believed happened to him when he died.
I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people's eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.
I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow.
The trouble about jumping was that if you didn't pick the right number of storeys, you might still be alive when you hit bottom.
So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state.
I began to think vodka was my drink at last. It didn’t taste like anything, but it went straight down into my stomach like a sword swallowers’ sword and made me feel powerful and godlike.
I wanted to be where nobody I knew could ever come.
There I went again, building up a glamorous picture of a man who would love me passionately the minute he met me, and all out of a few prosy nothings.
It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next. It made me tired just to think of it.
At this rate, I'd be lucky if I wrote a page a day. Then I knew what the problem was. I needed experience. How could I write about life when I'd never had a love affair or a baby or even seen anybody die? A girl I knew had just won a prize for a short story about her adventures among the pygmies in Africa. How could I compete with that sort of thing?.
I guess I should have reacted the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn't get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.
I am sure there are things that can't be cured by a good bath but I can't think of one.
I would catch sight of some flawless man off in the distance, but as soon as he moved closer I immediately saw he wouldn’t do at all.
I wondered why I couldn't go the whole way doing what I should any more. This made me sad and tired. Then I wondered why I couldn't go the whole way doing what I shouldn't, the way Doreen did, and this made me even sadder and more tired.
My mother said the cure for thinking too much about yourself was helping somebody who was worse off than you.
But I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure at all. How did I know that someday―at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere―the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again?.
I buried my head under the darkness of the pillow and pretended it was night. I couldn't see the point of getting up. I had nothing to look forward to.
I felt myself melting into the shadows like the negative of a person I'd never seen before in my life.
Everything people did seemed so silly, because they only died in the end.
Whenever I'm sad I'm going to die, or so nervous I can't sleep, or in love with somebody I won't be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: 'I'll go take a hot bath.
I knew you'd decide to be all right again.
I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes, and separating one box from another was sleep, like a black shade. Only for me, the long perspective of shades that set off one box from the next day had suddenly snapped up, and I could see day after day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue.
Then I decided I would spend the summer writing a novel. That would fix a lot of people.
I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print, the way you crawl through a fence, and go to sleep under that beautiful big green fig-tree.
There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room.
Maybe forgetfulness, like a kind snow, should numb and cover them. But they were a part of me. They were my landscape.
What a man wants is a mate and what a woman wants is infinite security,’ and, ‘What a man is is an arrow into the future and a what a woman is is the place the arrow shoots off from.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
I’d discovered, after a lot of extreme apprehension about what spoons to use, that if you do something incorrect at table with a certain arrogance, as if you knew perfectly well you were doing it properly, you can get away with it and nobody will think you are bad-mannered or poorly brought up. They will think you are original and very witty.
I saw the years of my life spaced along a road in the form of telephone poles threaded together by wires. I counted one, two, three... nineteen telephone poles, and then the wires dangled into space, and try as I would, I couldn't see a single pole beyond the nineteenth.
The only reason I remembered this play was because it had a mad person in it, and everything I had ever read about mad people stuck in my mind, while everything else flew out.
That afternoon my mother had brought me the roses. "Save them for my funeral," I'd said.
There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them. Whenever I'm sad I'm going to die, or so nervous I can't sleep, or in love with somebody I won't be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: "I'll go take a hot bath.
I started adding up all the things I couldn't do.
I felt like a racehorse in a world without racetracks or a champion college footballer suddenly confronted by Wall Street and a business suit, his days of glory shrunk to a little gold cup on his mantel with a date engraved on it like the date on a tombstone.
It was comforting to know I had fallen and could fall no farther.
I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.
Why honey, don't you want to get dressed?" My mother took care never to tell me to do anything. She would only reason with me sweetly, like one intelligent, mature person with another. It's almost three in the afternoon." I'm writing a novel," I said. "I haven't got time to change into this and change into that.
I woke to the sound of rain.
I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas, as if whatever it was the pine boughs and the candles and the silver and gilt-ribboned presents and the birch-log fires and the Christmas turkey and the carols at the piano promised never came to pass.
I began to see why woman-haters could make such fools of women. Woman-haters were like gods: invulnerable and chock full of power. They descended, and then they disappeared. You could never catch one.
When they asked me what I wanted to be I said I didn't know.
I also hate people to ask cheerfully how you are when they know you're feeling like hell and expect you to say "fine.
The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence. I knew perfectly well the cars were making noise, and the people in them and behind the lit windows of the buildings were making a noise, and the river was making a noise, but I couldn't hear a thing. The city hung in my window, flat as a poster, glittering and blinking, but it might just as well not have been there at all, for all the good it did me.
I collected men with interesting names.
I felt dreadfully inadequate. The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.
The silence drew off, baring the pebbles and shells and all the tatty wreckage of my life.
...it wouldn't have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat - on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok - I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.
I could feel the winter shaking my bones and banging my teeth together.
I was my own woman. The next step was to find the proper sort of man.
I didn't know shorthand either. This meant I couldn't get a good job after college. My mother kept telling me nobody wanted a plain English major. But an English major who knew shorthand would be something else again. Everybody would want her. She would be in demand among all the up-and-coming young men and she would transcribe letter after thrilling letter. The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way. I wanted to dictate my own thrilling letters.
It never occurred to me to say no.
What do you have in mind after you graduate?" What I always thought I had in mind was getting some big scholarship to graduate school or a grant to study all over Europe, and then I thought I'd be a professor and write books of poems or write books of poems and be an editor of some sort. Usually I had these plans on the tip of my tongue. "I don't really know," I heard myself say. I felt a deep shock, hearing myself say that, because the minute I said it, I knew it was true.
I felt the first man I slept with must be intelligent, so I could respect him.
Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one’s ashes, the gray scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York.