The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar was Sylvia Plath’s only novel, originally published under a pseudonym. Its title refers to the feeling which the narrator has of being trapped under a bell jar, and unable to breathe. Credit for this artwork goes to lazykitsuneReading The Bell Jar was a very odd experience for me. It begins with Esther Greenwood, the main character and narrator, recalling her experiences in New York. She is a poor girl, who won an opportunity to live in a hotel in New York, working at a magazine. The beginning chapters of the book are all, in my opinion, terribly dull – tales of dinners that Esther attends, her friends getting up to no good, steering her down the wrong path and so on. Frankly, it reads like a kid’s TV show with a moral to it.

Then, the tone changes. Esther returns home from New York, and finds that her life lacks direction and meaning. It was at this stage that I realised the first chapters had not, in fact, been an after-school special, but had been dull for a reason. Esther’s unhappiness and depression was, to an extent, present the whole time, and can be read from the beginning.The rest of the book, detailing Esther’s downward spiral, is wonderful. It details the experiences of depression in an incredibly realistic manner – as might be expected, given that Sylvia Plath suffered from depression, and tragically killed herself a month after The Bell Jar was first published in the UK. Sadly, the book’s theme, that of a young person being depressed, has made it a symbol of teenage angst, and a quick search on google shows that this is not entirely unfounded.

This could be a good thing, or a bad thing.

This could be a good thing, or a bad thing.

One of the reasons why it stikes such a chord with the angsty teenage crowd, among others, is because it reflects the ways in which so many people can feel alienated, and find difficulties with life’s demands. It is far from a cheerful read. Indeed, it so vividly portrays the detatchment of depression that the reader is at risk of becoming detatched and gloomy themselves. It would not make for good bedtime reading, but for a greater understanding of the mind, and the serious problem of depression with which a number of people today still struggle, I believe that no book written can match it.

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3 thoughts on “The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

  1. I loved “The Bell Jar”, it’s an amazing book but as you said, it might be triggering for some people. Have you read “Prozac Nation”? In my opinion it’s the book that portrays depression most accurately.
    Great post. 🙂

  2. I first read “The Bell Jar” when I was 16. I both loved the book for how well it was written and hated it for what it revealed about myself (and the world).

    Now, over 30 years later, I’ve been reading Plath’s early journals for a writing project and am looking to foster dialogue on her life and work. I wrote a brief post today on some of her early perspectives, here –

    http://writingforfoodinindy.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/beauty-out-of-sorrow-reflections-of-a-young-sylvia-plath/

    I would love for you to check it out as you have the chance and comment if you feel so led.

    Keep up the good reading and writing.

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