* Prices may differ from that shown
About the book
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is her only novel and it was originally published under a pseudonym in 1963. The edition being reviewed was published by Faber and Faber and is 240 pages long.
Working in New York one hot summer, Esther Greenwood is on the brink of her future. Yet she is also on the edge of a darkness that makes her world increasingly unreal. In this vivid and unforgettable novel about the struggles of growing up, Esther's world shines through: the wide-eyed country girls, her crazed men-friends, hot dinner dances and nights in New York, and a slow ride into breakdown.
What I thought
The Bell Jar is a book that I had to read for my Gender and Sexuality class at university. Unlike some of the other books I have had to read over three years, this one was enjoyable and interesting.
The Bell Jar begins with Esther Greenwood explaining how she came to be in New York and how she was feeling during that time. Plath adds in current events of the time to make it easier to relate to the place and time in which it is set. The first descriptions of New York are not the most pleasant and while explaining about the extravagances of the magazine industry, Plath manages to make the city seem dark and grey. The opening of the book made me want to know more about Esther, her life and how she spent her time in New York.
As Esther's time in New York is further explained, it is clear quite quickly that she doesn't feel at home there. Esther, used to being known for doing well in school and winning scholarships feels like an extremely small fish in a huge pond. Although the other characters are not described in too much detail, Esther makes it known that she doesn't feel anything like them and doesn't think that she has much in common with the other girls at all. The way that Esther's character is written would make me think that at the time the book was published, women everywhere would have been able to relate to her. She isn't the most confident of characters and is open about her fears and worries about the world and her future. This was something that I found really intriguing about Esther.
The Bell Jar is partly autobiographical of Sylvia Plath's life and deals with the topics of mental illness and suicide. These themes are strong throughout the whole book. When in New York, Esther knows she doesn't quite fit and this begins her slow descent into depression and an intense sadness. Even though Esther keeps her personality throughout the book, parts of her slowly get lost in the big world that she is experiencing. She is cold and calculating about some major issues like losing her virginity and her views about marriage are far from those of other women during that time.
Esther becomes mentally unstable following her return home from New York and this is where the novel mirrors parts of Plath's own life. I thought that this was going to be a really depressing book after knowing the subject matter but everything was so interesting instead. Watching Esther's mental health get worse and worse and seeing the different kinds of establishments that she was put in gave me more perspective on what Plath's own life would have been like. Due to Esther's condition and her life experiences, Plath made me like her but also feel empathy for her at the same time.
The Bell Jar is a wonderfully written novel full of poetic prose and crisp descriptions. While the novel tackles tough themes, especially for the time it was written, it is a compelling read and one that I enjoyed thoroughly.
I first heard about The Bell Jar after hearing one of my friends answer the 'if you could have 3 people to dinner dead or alive who would you choose?' questions. She picked American poet Sylvia Plath and after this I thought I'd Google Plath to find out what the fuss was about. After reading a short summary of Plath's life online I rushed to the library and rented The Bell Jar and couldn't quite put it down.
It is a 'roman a clef' novel, so it's autobiographical just with the names changed and I'm assuming some events in the book have been embellished in some description. The book centres around Plath's spiral into depression, her mental illness. Some of the descriptions in the book are incredibly raw and open and some metaphorical. However other parts of the story are really relatable, touching on things that I'm sure everyone has felt at some time or another, themes such as feeling isolated and loneliness are incredibly universal so this book really reaches out and strikes emotion.
Esther Greenwood is the central character and she gets an internship in New York, her life in the city is the focal point for the beginning of the story. However once she returns home and finds her life unfulfilling she spirals down in to a pit of unhappiness as she does not get a scholarship that she's applied for later that summer. Once her initial internship is over Esther finds herself becoming unable to fulfil everyday tasks with ease. At one point she finds it hard to write properly as well as having issues breathing. This is when she starts her long line of doctorial placements and visits to psychiatrists and hospitals.
As Plath is formerly a poet, a lot of her writing within this novel is very descriptive and beautiful as well as metaphorical. The title is a long running metaphor throughout the book; Esther, the main character in the book- based on Plath herself- feels like she's stuck under a glass bell jar that she cannot shift. This feeling of being trapped is continued throughout the novel and I really enjoy the other metaphors Plath uses within her writing to represent life such as the fig tree comparison in which the branches are each different paths you could take each leading to the fig at the end of the stick denoting the ripeness of the future for you.
I had a conversation with another friend about this book and they told me they didn't really enjoy it as it was too descriptive and not enough narrative. This is the kind of novel that I enjoy reading however, sometimes I'd rather hear about detail than have a complex and long winded storyline. Obviously plot is important and I feel that as well as being metaphorical and being full of detailed descriptions, this novel has a grounded plot that you'll enjoy following.
Having had a look at a couple of other reviews of this bovel on dooyoo there's been some criticism of the main character Esther. There may be a perception that she is a self obsessed character but as the novel is based around her, I think this is allowed. I found her a difficult character, a multi layered one but who'd want to read about a main character without flaws and difficulties? I became quite attatched to this character, wanting her life to be OK in the end, as the beginning is no way near as dark as the ending. In fact it's in quite stark contrast at points, something that I feel adds to the complexity of this short, neat novel.
It is quite a short read at a mere 234 pages so it didn't take much time to read at all. I would recommend this book if you want a really raw and beautifully poetic novel laced with metaphors but with also dark implications. You can purchase a used copy on Amazon for a penny so it really won't burn a hole in your pocket. Otherwise libraries stock this book, my local one had a few copies.
I already knew of Sylvia Plath's work and life, but read Lindaw Wagner-Martin's biography 'Sylvia Plath' about two weeks before reading the Bell Jar (which is actually a very easy to read biography, even of Plath's traumatic life) and the similarities are chilling. It's well known that The Bell Jar is somewhat autobiographical, but knowing just how much is somehow worse.
This was an all night read for me - as in I started reading at around 6pm and didn't stop until I finished it at 4am; I literally couldn't put it down. Written in the 60s and set in 50s America, The Bell Jar follows the life of college student Esther Greenwood as her sanity falls apart at the hands of her oppressive mother and awkward, unfulfilling love life.
The first person narrative is gripping and shows clearly the intelligence and frustration of Esther. Personally, I'm not a fan of Plath's other works. I've found both Ariel and The Colossus inaccessible for me, whereas The Bell Jar is relatable and a lot less abstract. The characters are built up brilliantly, and it's clearly from Esther's point of view. We know that the view of the oppressive Mother is Esther's opinion and the view of the deceitful first boyfriend, Buddy, is also Esther's opinion.
The optimistic opening of Esther winning a magazine competition is shattered so suddenly yet gradually and really, from then on, the novel is a painful read. Trust the jokes; The Bell Jar does leave you with a kind of void, but one that is quickly filled by appreciation of the beauty of what you have just read.
I'm very doubtful that The Bell Jar is for all; however I'm yet to find a single person who dislikes the book. Despite the miserable themes throughout, Esther's character is actually very likable, sharp and witty. (SPOILER) To those who have actually read the text the whole way through - I found the hopeful ending somewhat painful given the actually ending of Plath's life.
A classic book that should be read: it's fast paced, genuine and heart wrenching. The motifs of the bell jar and fig tree are brilliantly worked in, adding to the fragile state of Esther - a credit to Plath's literary ability. It's a book that really stays with you and really makes you think and feel - however saddening.
I first read this book when I was around 14 and I've lost count of how many times I've read it now. This book honestly is one of the most moving I've ever read (and, being a nerd, I've read a lot).
The book tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a young girl paralysed by indecision and of course by the "bell jar" of the novel's title - her depression. The book isn't written in a convoluted or overly "literary" way; its written in clear and crisp prose. That isn't too say that the book is an altogether easy read, as it offers the reader many questions to ponder; questions about one's own life, feelings, motivations and behaviour.
Although I personally relate to much of the novel's content, Plath's insights into the human condition and the way that we interact with each other is relevant to anyone. It's immensely humane and honest and, really, quite ordinary in its content. Nothing hugely exciting happens but its so beautifully written and above all so TRUE that this doesn't matter.
This book is often lauded as a modern classic and, for me, its easy to see why. This is indubitably my favourite book and I would hugely recommend it to anybody.
It's fair to say "The Bell Jar" changed my life. I first read it for my high school dissertation when I was sixteen and have gone back to it many times since. Not only do I could it as my favourite novel, but it has gone on to influence much of the literature I have read since. It is not an easy read, often disturbing and upsetting, but it is definitely a book that I believe everyone should read at least once. "The Bell Jar" is a semi-autobiographical novel by Sylvia Plath, and was her only full length novel, with Plath being more commonly identified as a poet.
The story is based around the life of Esther Greenwood during a summer which she has won a competition to work an internship at a New York magazine. Whilst this should be the opportunity of a lifetime for a budding writer, the novel documents the decline of her mental state during this period and beyond. "The Bell Jar" deals with a range of themes including mental illness, attempted suicide, relationships with family, friends, medical professionals and members of the opposite sex, and the impact that each of these has on the mental state of Esther.
Based largely on the personal experience of Sylvia Plath, who herself tragically committed suicide, "The Bell Jar" allows Plath to detail her first-hand experience of the lonely and helpless place that those suffering from mental illness can reach. Whilst often difficult to understand the thoughts and actions of Esther (as with Plath herself), "The Bell Jar" gives an invaluable insight into what life can be like for those who feel that dying may just be better than life.
The Bell Jar.
This was the only novel that Plath published, which she did under a pseudonym back in the 60's. She was an excellent poet but is largely known for her largely-autobiographical novel.
Her real-life persona in the book is Esther Greenwood; a woman in the 60s who has won a contest and is spending the summer at a New York magazine; she has many inner conflicts within herself, she increasingly finds herself suffocating in a bell jar of depression and cynicism, with a distorted view on the world and being unable to communicate effectively out of the jar. This gets too much for her and she ends up being hospitalised.
The book is intensely emotional as I knew Plath was talking about her own mental issues that she had in this book. She describes the depression as if it was a never-ending pit of cynicism and true despair that only people who have gone through can truly describe it . She didn't try to make it melodramatic in this sense, she portrayed the suicidal thoughts as authentic and very well written, perhaps it was because it was written from her own experiences.
Esther begins to get settled in a day-to-day routine of being in a summer school for the fashion magazine but we soon see the glitz and glamour is losing its novelty, the excitement and enjoyment is gone for Esther as she struggles to find beauty in the fashion world. As the story progresses and we learn more about Esther, we realise she is quite a feminist, it is not entirely clear but there are overtones that she obviously didn't want to tied down by marriage just because she was expected to. She has her own ideas about sexuality; tries to use men before they'd get a chance to use her: She seems to have a rather cynical view on men themselves. She has to make a decision soon and quickly when the magazine summer school ends; she finds herself unable to do that and flings all of her clothes she once saw as special but now regarded them as 'a loved one's ashes' as it flies above the New York skyline. After she returns home; she sinks down further and further in her own insanity as she begins to find everyday tasks unbearable to do and contemplates the best suicide method.
Her imagery of being stuck in a bell jar is absolutely an evocative and powerful image, I can see why she used it as her title. I particularly loved her idea of the figs; how your entire life is represented by a fig tree; the long branches shows the many decisions that you make for the new paths in life, each wonderful fig at the end of each branch representing a wonderful future: a happy marriage with kids, wonderful poet, or a professor. The choice is just which branch do you take? As you take one branch, you'd lose the rest of the figs. Take your time deciding which path to take, the figs will be rotten by the time you get there. Esther finds herself unable to make her choices and the figs start rotting. This is where we see her descent into her own pit of despair.
This isn't a pretentious novel; it is a simply written novel with a style that is very fluid to read, which made it rather captivating to read. Her use of the metaphorical language and extraordinary descriptions to express the imagery of the character's suffocation and descent into madness was very well handled. She provides an important insight into mental illness which was an unknown territory at the time. The first half of the novel is light-hearted with a dash of optimism with the future lies ahead but as Esther is paralysed to make her choices; it suddenly takes on a morbid and cynical style where Plath's writing style shines through, in my opinion. She captures the dark humour in some parts brilliantly where it made me burst out in laughter then the next minute wondering if I should have done that!
Standing at 234 pages, I thought this book was much too short as I wanted to carry on reading!
This novel was beautifully written, using Plath's own troubled and disturbing experiences to describe her feelings during her dark periods of her life has made this book an emotional but yet a captivating read. Plath's take on the character was very well done; showing that any intelligent level-headed person can go insane and there are no indicators of it at all.
This novel by Sylvia Plath is known to be quite autobiographical. It tells the tale of Esther Greenwood, a young woamn who appears bright and intelligent, yet she feels the world falling around her and does not believe in herself.
She is given the amazing opportunity to progress in a career of fashion and design, being one of a few girls chosen for a competitive internship yet she never appreciates nor feels she deserves this. Her melancholy grows into depression and she is soon forced by her mother to seek medical care.
The reader sees Esther's struggle to fight this depression and appreciate living her life, but her progression is not linear, and there is uncertainty as to whether she will recover.
There are strong themes of struggling to fit conventional expectations and the role of women in the 1950s in America. This novel is extremely well written but is far from a pretty read. It is often brutal and the reader is made to clearly feel the extent of Esther's depression.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath tells the story of Esther, a young girl who performs well at school, aspires to be a writer and has landed a stint working for a magazine in New York. During this time she starts to suffer mental health problems and has suicidal tendencies. She attempts suicide on a few occasions and is consequently admitted to an asylum where she receives EST (Electric shock therapy), first unsuccessfully and then apparently with more success. The book ends with Esther being interviewed by doctors as to her suitability to leave the asylum, but the reader never finds out the outcome of this interview.
I found this book rather flat, almost boring. The character of Esther does not have sufficient depth to be interesting or aspiring and the reader is left feeling rather indifferent towards her. I think the book would have benefited from a more substantial second character that Esther could have interacted with in order that the reader could understand her more. To me, the book seemed to be skimming the surface of a year in the life of Esther and although it was dealing with her inner thoughts and feelings I still feel that she lacked depth of character.
One interesting point of the book is the image of the bell jar and the description of mental illness as something no-one can see, but is nevertheless suffocating and all-consuming is very enlightening. I think if Plath had tried to express these feelings, and the frustration these feelings must cause, the book would have been more rewarding.
What can I say about this that hasnt already been said?
I did enjoy reading it, though as an autobiography not fiction although I know it was not truly autobiographical, I think the accounts of her feelings were.
The main character was not particularly likeable and nor should she be. When one is sunk in depression there is nothing to be likeable about. The bell jar is a very apt description, I think, of being able to see but not experience the world outside.
I think she captured so well the lack of understanding that is apparent, even with many professionals, around mental health. One problem being that, for the person experiencing the depression, there is not a right way to be with them, as everything is seen as meaningless and pointless and any kindness perceived as false or self serving. Even having been there, when you are not there it is difficult to have any understanding of the person you were at that time so for most that havent, any level of understanding is well nigh impossible.
Many reviews seem to see the treatment and understanding of issues problems to realte to the time when the book was written. Although we have come some way. I still believe, there is a long way to go and that people with mental health illnesses are still viewed and treated very differently from those with physical health issues
After hearing a clip out of the journals of Sylvia Plath, I was entrigued and decided to try this book. This is honestly the best book I have ever read, Plath manages to be both poignant and througly readable. The protaganist is a young girl Esther (Plath) who works for a top magazine company, she slowly falls more and more into the depths of clincal depression until she eventually she attempts suicide ends up in a physicatric ward. A beautiful and harrowing tale of despair of the harsh realities of life.
This novel was passed on to me by my beloved, who had told me how brilliant it was, but I had not believed her. Mea culpa, indeed. My perception of this novel was that it was for girls, but what I realised is that if that was true, then Catcher in the Rye is for boys. I’m sorry, I really am – I realise now what a silly, stereotypical notion it was. I do think, in fact, that Esther Greenwood’s story and Holden Caulfield’s story make a fascinating pigeon pair. Both are about the teenage to early adult mind, and although one is told by and about a girl, and the other a boy, both hold true for everyone. The novel begins in New York city, where Esther is one of twelve girls who have won a month’s internship at a NYC ladies’ fashion magazine. She is torn, in her allegiance, between naughty Doreen, whose exploits outside of the conventional excite Esther, and Betsy, who is a good girl who only wants the best for Esther. The girls spend their days at the magazine, under the thumb of one of the editors, and their nights in the city, either taking part in all the organised social events, as Betsy does, or finding their own fun, as Doreen does. Esther likes her editor, JC, and initially enjoys the work she is given. But, gradually, things begin to go, well, fig shaped. Esther has a dream which sums up her predicament in the book, and is representative of the kind of 20s angst that young people have to go through today. Esther imagines herself in a fig tree: all around her, she sees figs that represent the various things she could do with her life, such as become a writer, or an editor, or marry Buddy, and so on. She is paralysed by choice, and as she tries to decide, the figs wither and rot and fall from the tree. This is the beginning of her breakdown. As the time in New York draws to a close (and it is very entertainingly told by Plath), Esther begins to have to face the watershed of decision in her life
. She cannot commit herself to being the kind of girl that either Doreen or Betsy is, and ends up on the roof of her hotel releasing all her clothes to the wind, a metaphor for the way her identity is simultaneously being stripped from her, and the way in which she is letting it disintegrate. JC gives Esther a good talking to, and this has the opposite result to the motivation that JC probably thought she would create by trying to force Esther to declare a vocation for herself and start acting towards achieving it. Esther returns home to her mother, with only a shirt and a green skirt that are unwashed, and sinks into a depression. At this point the novel almost changes character completely – it goes from being quite light-hearted and entertaining to being disturbing and mordant. But, Plath’s writing skill wins through, and the novel maintains, especially by the end, its wholeness. In fact, I think Plath does something quite brilliant, which is to drag her readers through a kind of echo of what Esther goes through: the feeling of being under the bell jar, constricted, suffocated. The book never becomes boring, it just changes. Esther is a loveable character, in a similar way to Holden Caulfield. I am surprised, having now read it, that this book is not more popular and more highly regarded, but then I remember my attitude towards it before reading it, which I must have got from somewhere, and I begin to think that it is criminally undervalued. I thank my beloved for making me read it, and I urge you to do the same.
Thank god for Sylvia Plath. In her brief & tragic life she provided us with an insight into the world of the depressed. The Bell Jar shows us how depressed people were treated once. And it teaches us all to be more tolerant. A wonderful read for people of all ages, Sylvia draws us in with a personal description of Esther that could be any normal young woman. Sylvia Plath's personal experience comes through her writing and validates Esther's experience.
My god. I've just emerged from a 3 day depression having read this book. I loved it, couldn't put it down but felt that my fascination with it's content was slightly unhealthy. I was really left with the feeling that i had just experienced a mental breakdown myself. It is about a young girl who is put into a mental institute and her experiences before, after and during her stay there. The main lesson (a la' Oprah !) that i took from the book was that it is all too easy to cross the border between instability and mental illness and that, although your average mad-looking-person on the street might just look simply crazy, you shouldn't treat them as such because recovery from mental illness is often affected by the way that the outside world reacts to you. This book was clearly so close to Sylvia Plath's heart, considering her suicide soon after its release, that i felt she had really given herself to me. It humbled me and made me feel grateful for all that i have. You should read it too - if you're feeling strong. If you're not feeling quite that strong!, i would recommend that you read 'Girl Interrupted' by Susannah Kaysen first. It takes a more optimistic look at the subject and might prepare you better for 'The Bell Jar' which, despite the unsettling impression it had on me, was well worth reading.
I found this book rather harrowing to read, its overall theme being human suffering. The author explored themes related to this, such as the human mind, struggle, suicide, and young women's positions in society during the 1940s and 50s: more specifically, how this society refuses to take women's aspirations seriously. However, the general theme and certainly the best explored idea of this book would be human suffering and madness. The author explores this well, probably because this was an autobiography. Sylvia Plath obviously understands at the deepest level the theme of this novel; it being a theme in her own life. First Plath explores how suffering begins and develops in a person. In this book, it is not actually clear what brought on the main character's terrifying internal battles and descent into madness. But the development is portrayed clearly; the stages of self doubt turning constant feelings of having no worth whatsoever. The character (as Plath calls herself, Esther) accuses herself of being useless in a society that has no place for her. And so begins a spiraling, quick decline in this young woman as she descends into a life of self mutilation. Throughout this novel, Esther contemplates suicide frequently: "But when it came right down to it, the skin of my wrists looked so white and defenseless against the blade of my Gillete that I just couldn't do it." However, after following multiple attempts at suicide, Esther finally manages to overdose on enough sleeping pills as to land herself in the hospital. Shortly after she is sent to a Psychiatric Ward, where it is expected Electroshock Treatments will cure her depression. After endless, blurry days full of pain and misery, her condition improves. Esther is released from the Ward and is almost herself again. Around this time in her life, Plath completed the book The Bell Jar and produced a plethora of poetry, all astounding pieces of work. By this time she was ma
rried to a poet, Ted Hughes, and had two children. Although she was said to be hopeful and optimistic during these days of her life, on the morning of February 11, 1963, Plath ended her life without explanation. This book conveys a journey of an individual's personal experience with human suffering. The theme is well explored by the author, to the extent where the novel was criticized for being hitting the reader with such disturbing impact. I, as well, found this novel to be disturbing. Sylvia Plath dug deep into the landscape of the human mind and eloquently portrayed darkness, disillusion, and despair.
Who amongst us has not had at that awful ‘closed in’ feeling during stressful or depressing times in our lives when all we would like to do is run away, far far away? The title of this book by Sylvia Plath is a metaphor for just that. The Bell Jar represents that feeling of claustrophobia depression can bring on. You’re stuck inside it feeling as though there is simply no way out. The book charts the course of Esther’s (Plath’s) depression which leads to a nervous breakdown and her subsequent treatment and recovery. It is loosely autobiographical; Sylvia Plath suffered from manic depression thoughout her life. Sadly her treatment was not successful and she committed suicide whilst still in her thirties leaving behind two small children and an estranged husband, the future Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. Esther’s life is shaping up perfectly – she has a summer job on a fashion magazine in New York and all is going well but slowly the cracks start to appear. Her course at Harvard falls through and her relationships with her mother and boyfriend become increasingly strained. Plath tells the story in the first person, speaking directly to the reader, and the personal experience and honesty of the writing shine through. The first time that I read this book I got about half way through and thought ‘well, poor girl, no wonder she has a nervous breakdown, it’s all going wrong for her’. Horrifyingly I subsequently realised this WAS the nervous breakdown. So perfectly had Plath captured the essence of this dreadful illness that I had felt Esther’s reality as she had. This book is not one for the faint-hearted, although Esther does undergo treatment which helps her and the book does end on a note of optimism, unlike the end for poor Sylvia Plath herself. It is fantastically well written, true, honest and poetic. If you would like to understand the real meaning
of mental illness from someone who has suffered themself this book will help you. Much has been written about Sylvia Plath, and her husband, Ted Hughes, some of it very angry. They are both dead now and their relationship was their own, not ours to share. All we should do is read their work, and appreciate it.