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Understanding the roots of the Fig Tree Metaphor

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Aberdeen chapter.

Understanding the roots of the fig tree metaphor.

Sylvia Plath is a well known poet and writer from the 20th century who after publishing a
handful of pieces, unfortunately made the decision to end her life at the young age of 30. She
suffered through clinical depression throughout the majority of her time alive however her
legacy has well and truly lived on. Her works have inspired many with arguably her most famous
publication being “The Bell Jar” which was published in 1963.

This novel was semi-autobiographical and explored a woman named Esther Greenwood’s time
in New York as she interns for a magazine. The protagonist’s mental health steadily declines as
the book continues to the point that she is institutionalized and subjected to Electroconvulsive
therapy (ECT). The Bell Jar was an incredibly impactful piece that explored gender roles and a
woman’s place, as well as purpose, in society at that time -which is likely why it still resonates
so much with women today. A key analogy within the story is the fig tree metaphor:

“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. One fig was a
husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig
was a brilliant professor . . . beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t
quite make out. 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.”

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

As aforementioned, her work is still celebrated and discussed on various platforms with the
most recent activity being a trend on instagram and tiktok. In this trend, creators show what
their fig tree would look like and every career that they wish they could try out. In an example
from one of the most popular videos by @emsophx, they share that they wish to be a journalist,
psychologist, literature professor, artist etc.

A couple of patterns have already emerged from this trend, the majority of contributors are
seemingly 20 something year-old women. When looking at the trees in this blooming orchard,
it’s immediately obvious that the bulk of individual’s trees have predominantly creative jobs. In
a stark comparison it’s also been pointed out that not one individual has stated that they’d want
to work in a corporate job or in an office setting. Is a life truly well lived if we don’t get to
pursue our passions and dreams?

The fig tree trend is not the first of its kind and those who engage with this are labelled as the
“thought daughters”. Those participating with this section of social media are seemingly
terrified of their future and who they are each becoming. The “thought daughter” is swamped
with existential dread and regrets. Some individuals empathise with Plath’s description of
“decision paralysis” where they feel so overwhelmed by a whirlwind of life paths and multitudes
of opportunities. With privilege comes choice and if they don’t decide on anything then the
opportunities disappear one by one.

As a 20 year old woman surrounded by possibilities, I am both petrified and exhilarated by the
prospect of so many different lives I could be living. I hope that in 5 years time I can be proud of
the decisions I’ve made and the paths I’ve explored. Although I hope to be a professor one day, I
am also thrilled by the thought of being a painter, writer or bookshop owner.

I hope my fig tree continues to blossom and branch out.

Hello! I'm a student at the University of Aberdeen studying Psychology with an interest in academia and research. I absolutely love reading, writing and creating art!