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Revisiting Sylvia Plath’s Fig Tree as a College Senior

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 Stevens chapter.

Winter break is often hailed as a time for relaxation, rejuvenation, and perhaps even self-discovery. I started off my last winter break with a goal to find a new hobby. Each week was a new endeavor: crossword puzzles, reading, soap carving, cooking, vlogging, etc. None of these hobbies gave me the fulfillment I was looking for, however. Little did I know that this quest would lead me straight to Sylvia Plath’s poignant fig tree analogy, a metaphor for the existential angst of choice and the fear of missing out.

In Plath’s seminal work, “The Bell Jar,” the protagonist Esther Greenwood muses about her future, envisioning herself as the proverbial fig tree, each fig representing a different path she could take in life. As I grappled with my own indecision during winter break, I couldn’t help but feel a kinship with Esther and her fig tree. Every option seemed simultaneously enticing and daunting, leaving me paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice.

Days turned into weeks as I wandered from one potential hobby to the next, unable to commit to any one pursuit. I dabbled in cooking, tried my hand at soap carving, even attempted to strengthen my crossword puzzle skills—all to no avail. Each endeavor felt like a fleeting fig, promising fulfillment only to wither away before my eyes.

As the days of winter break dwindled, a sense of panic began to set in. Time was slipping through my fingers like sand in an hourglass, and still, I had nothing to show for it. I was haunted by the specter of the fig tree, its branches laden with unchosen paths, each one representing a missed opportunity.

In a last-ditch effort to salvage my break, I found myself reminded of Plath’s fig tree analogy, and felt that it accurately reflects my current situation. It was then that I realized the true weight of her metaphor: the fig tree isn’t just a symbol of choice, but also of the inevitability of time’s passing. Like Esther, I was faced with the daunting reality that every decision—or indecision—carried consequences, shaping the trajectory of my future in ways both seen and unseen.

The realization that helped me, however, was that if we imagine that every version of ourselves in other universes gets an equal amount of good luck and chances, then shouldn’t our world now also have the potential to help us from any self-imposed misery? The more I think about this, the more convinced I become that we deliberately confine ourselves within a paradoxical mindset, predisposing ourselves to a sense of futility even before we even begin anything. Do not all pivotal decisions in life present us with their own intricate web of obstacles? And can we truly label any outcome as a loss when every alternate existence we might have led is fraught with its own trials and teachings?

Upon reflection, it becomes evident that labeling any outcome as a loss is a limited perspective. Every decision we make, every path we choose to follow, opens doors to a myriad of possibilities. And while some outcomes may not align with our initial expectations or desires, they invariably contribute to our personal development and understanding of the world around us.

In essence, the existence of parallel universes and the potential for alternate realities highlight the complexity and interconnectedness of human experience. Rather than succumbing to a sense of defeatism, we can embrace the inherent uncertainty of life and recognize that every hardship, every setback, is but a stepping stone on the path to self-discovery and fulfillment.

As graduation approached, I once again found myself face-to-face with the fig tree analogy. Its branches extended before me like a map of endless possibilities. However, this time, I sensed a newfound urgency in the air. Instead of fixating on finding the perfect path, I embraced the idea of treating each option as a valuable experience. Graduation signifies a significant transition in life, marking the beginning of a new chapter. Standing on the brink of this fresh start, I recall Sylvia Plath’s poignant fig tree metaphor, a reminder that our choices shape not only our present but also our future. With this in mind, I prepare to embark on the next phase of my journey with purpose, ready to embrace whatever opportunities come my way, one step at a time.

As I sit and contemplate the myriad of paths that lie ahead of me, I envision the diverse lives I could lead. In one future, I see myself delving into the dynamic realm of academia, pursuing a Ph.D. in computer engineering with fervor and dedication. Immersed in the world of research and academia, I am driven by a passion for innovation and a groundbreaking research endeavors

In another potential future, I envision myself as a globe-trotting explorer, traveling the world to document diverse cultures and life experiences. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the tranquil villages of Italy, I immerse myself in the richness of each destination, capturing stories as a blogger or journalist. With every journey, I gain a deeper understanding of the world and myself, inspired by the resilience and warmth of the people I meet. Through my adventures, I hope to foster empathy and appreciation for our global community, one story at a time.

Alternatively, I imagine a life steeped in entrepreneurial endeavors, as I establish an Algerian-style cafe in the heart of New York City. With a flair for creativity and a passion for hospitality, I envision myself crafting unique and refreshing drinks, inspired by the vibrant flavors of Algerian cuisine. This cozy and inviting space would serve as more than just a cafe—it would be a hub for community, where people gather to unwind, connect, and share stories over steaming cups of coffee and delectable pastries. As I cultivate this welcoming environment, I am driven by a desire to create a haven where individuals from all walks of life can come together to enjoy good company and memorable experiences.

Each of these alternate lives presents its own set of challenges and triumphs. In one reality, I may find myself grappling with the complexities of academia, navigating the intricate dynamics of scholarly discourse and intellectual pursuit. In another, I may face the exhilarating unpredictability of life on the road, embracing the unknown with every new destination and story uncovered.

Despite the uncertainties that accompany these diverse paths, one thing remains constant: the opportunity for growth and fulfillment. Whether I find myself in the hallowed halls of academia, the bustling streets of a foreign city, or the solitude of a corporate office, I am confident that each experience will shape me in profound and meaningful ways.

As I gaze into the vast expanse of the future, I am filled with a sense of excitement and possibility. While I may never know which path I will ultimately choose, I take solace in the knowledge that each alternate life holds the promise of adventure, discovery, and self-discovery. And as I embark on this journey of exploration, I do so with an open heart and a readiness to embrace whatever the future may hold.

Janet is a 4/4 Computer Engineering major at Stevens Institute of Technology. Her interests include art, photography, and literature, and in her free time she likes to read, bake, and hang out with friends!