Student fees – escaping the bell jar

bell jar
| Feminism > Activism

Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ shows a trapped woman on an internship wondering who will employ her, where her degree will lead her, how she is to beat the competition. Can students sucked into the mire of UK student fees escape their own bell jar?

““I thought I would spend the summer reading Finnegan’s Wake and writing my thesis. Then I thought I might put off college for a year and apprentice myself as a pottery maker. Or work my way to Germany and be a waitress, until I was bilingual. Then plan after plan started leaping through my head, like a family of scatty rabbits.”” (Plath, Sylvia. (1963) The Bell Jar)

The Bell Jar has, so far, has been slowly and gradually slipping its hand in mine as if we’’ve made some sort of connection. That’s not say, as an aspiring professional writer, that I’’ve made the decision to become a depressive who happens to produce beautiful poetry (I wish) but more that, as a Plathian, I’’ve found myself becoming increasingly attached to the semi-autobiographical accounts of Esther Greenwood as I read on.

Why? I think it may have something to do with the quote above. Like many university students, I’’ve been spending a good portion of my second year struggling to decipher whether or not I’m part of a generation surplus to our new prime minister’s requirements. First came the recession, then came the Tories – David “The Pied Piper” Cameron – and then we had Nick Clegg’’s betrayal of the students.

The frequent discussion of student fees resembles the hands of hungry grave-dwellers clawing at your ankles in attempts to drag you down, but the issue of student fees is still something that students in particular can’t ignore. We’’ve been served lies and marginalisation under our new government, and it’s caused me to panic about my future more than ever before. I find myself constantly fretting, just like Esther Greenwood, about who on earth will employ me. Where is my degree going to lead me? How am I going to beat competition? Are institutions even looking for new writers? Can they afford them?

Is anybody realistically going to pay me to write all day long?

The future is cloaked in a fog of uncertainty. When you’’re reading daily statistics of “7,000 job cuts in six months” (The Guardian) and countless headlines of “Financial crisis” and “Estimated fund cuts”, it’’s hard to recognise which paths we should be taking in these hard economic times.

It’’s hard to see a cloud’’s silver lining when your vision is blocked by angry placards, police batons and thousands of foaming mouths. I’’ve been asking myself daily:– where can I go from here? No student who pays over three thousand pounds a year for their tuition wants to end up living off their parents for the foreseeable future, let alone these unfortunate kids who have a whopping 9k a year to look forward to, excluding those ghastly living costs. Didn’’t we take the university route to avoid such issues in the long run?

I am over half way through The Bell Jar, and I know the worst is still to come for our protagonist, a student writer struggling to build confidence on an internship in a cut-throat industry and cut-throat world. I don’t know if Esther’s story has a happy ending. The only advice I can muster for the sake of myself and my peers is this: If you feel yourself suffocating inside an invisible Bell Jar of your own, as many of us are, stop panicking. Don’t let our troubles cloud your vision. Ball your fists and smash through the bloody thing; leave it in pieces behind you, where it belongs. Then take a long, deep breath. You’’ve earned it.

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