top of page
Edition #10
Other Voices, Other Rooms
Sofio Rukhadze
Edited by Laurine Heerema

“Is that all there is?!”
 Observing female experience through Sylvia Plath’s “Fig Tree” analogy

Growing up as women, society establishes rules that we slowly internalize, namely: Do not speak too loud or be too emotional. Be more feminine to attract male attention, yet less feminine to avoid too much male attention; smile more but cry less;act helpless but also strong; have kids and a career, but don’t earn more than your male partner. At times, it is impossible to distinguish between what we want and what others want for us. When these two different desires clash, we become confused, sometimes angry, and even frustrated.  It is as if we wish for everything and nothing simultaneously, which calls to mind Sylvia Plath’s “Fig Tree” analogy. In her book, The Bell Jar, the protagonist Esther Greenwood describes the feeling of having many paths before her but being unable to decide which one is correct and worthy to pursue. It is as if sitting under a fig tree and observing those delicious figs posed above, unable to decide which one to taste. Being a female is much like sitting under the fig tree and continuously internally discussing what the right choice is. Often, there is a great contrast between what you want and what is socially acceptable and safe. And deciding, at times, feels impossible. 


What is it like to be a woman? The question many are unable to answer, even if they identify as one. Many authors, poets, and directors have tried to analyze the female existence and experience to understand the internal rage, pain, or happiness women experience. Accordingly, in The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath follows the protagonist, who is lost in life, and while daydreaming of what could have been, life passes her by. Although she has the  privilege to decide what to do with her life, she is completely off-track. She desires everything, yet while trying to choose, she understands that she can only pick one path, which means forfeiting all others. Some may criticize Esther because, unlike many women of her time who lacked the freedom to decide their futures, she is a highly prosperous woman with the means to choose freely. In an era where many women faced discrimination and had their education, aspirations, and dreams stripped away, it can be infuriating to read about a character who has all these opportunities yet does nothing. Nevertheless, this is what makes her so relatable to many. Perhaps having the privilege to choose is not enough to muster the courage to decide what one's life will look like. In a world that expects females to be so many things, it is nearly impossible to understand precisely what one should pursue. 


In the twenty-first century, where women can have an education, cast a vote, and be in the same meeting rooms as men, people tend to forget that not so long ago, this was not the case. The previous generations did not have such luxury. They had to get married, have children, and devote their entire lives to them. Now that, in most countries, women have the rights and freedom they lacked before, societal expectations of them seem to be increasing. To be considered smart, you need to be at the top of the class. However, the boy who is lazier than you and does not get as high marks is still regarded as better because he is seen as "talented but lazy,", which is common for boys.

Afterward, everyone expects you to do your best at work and stay late at night, but your male colleague might still earn more than you. Society expects  that women, of course,should  have as many children as possible and take the best care of them every day after work while doing unpaid labor of cleaning, cooking, and running errands. At the end of the day,  your husband still gets the star when he babysits his children when you are away on a work trip. It can therefore be argued that in a society that tells women they can be anything, there are still limitations and the expectation to be perfect. Every so often, despite all the privileges, it is hard to decide what to pursue, as freedom of choice does not always mean freedom of decision-making. Even though women have much bigger fig trees to pick their fruit from, they still have societal pressures that perhaps prevent them from pursuing their actual dreams and end up settling for what is the safest option. Societal pressures still stifle female aspirations by deeming them unrealistic and impossible, as it is still considered (though often not said out loud) that “the weak sex” is not capable of leadership as much as men. That is why, sitting under the fig tree, it is so hard to decide which route we are supposed to take. Perhaps, in the back of our minds, we still fear disappointing others and, most importantly, ourselves. We have been taught to cherish the choices our predecessors did not have, and we pressure ourselves to make the best of them by striving to be extraordinary.We fear being “just ordinary”, as we are taught that being ordinary is not something we should strive for. 


Having the privilege to choose your path and yet being lost between your aspirations and wishes is how Plath’s analogy describes the female experience. Plath talks about the following observation in The Bell Jar, “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.” All options seem promising, and yet, by choosing one, there is a fear that prevents one from choosing at all. The fear of failure, the fear of not making the most out of our life, and getting stuck with the choice that was a big mistake. It is very human to feel dread for the future, and when one is born as a female, it is even scarier to be something other than extraordinary, as we finally have all these rights and the freedom to choose. If a woman chooses not to have a child, she should have a compelling reason, such as pursuing a career or an extraordinary adventure, to justify her decision and find fulfillment in another significant aspect of life. The  lingering  anxiety of “what if” is always there, whispering and saying that every choice might seem right, but then again, you will never know which one will satisfy you. While fighting for success in our personal or professional lives, we cannot help but ask ourselves: “Is that all there is?!” Or should I have taken the other path that would have brought me more success and happiness? While overthinking and observing the fig tree before us, life slowly passes us by, and in the end, we might be left with nothing but the regret of not risking, not taking the chance while it was the right time, and instead letting the fear overtake our senses. While striving to be extraordinary, sometimes we end up neglecting the choices that would make us happy. 



 1 Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, (Faber and Faber, 2008)
 2 Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, (Faber and Faber, 2008)

Read more
new Lizzie Rose_edited.jpg

Elizabeth Rose

The after wave: the reflective of water in our literature, lifestyle, imagination and experience

Second ED - Sabrina Harverson_edited.jpg

Sabrina Harverson

Sailing Through Life’s Choppy Waters: Exploring Stoicism In A Modern Context


Sarah Hussain

The Alchemical Marriage: the reunion of opposites through Goethe's Faust

bottom of page