The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.

What it’s about: Esther Greenwood is a young woman struggling to make herself look and feel like all the other college-age women around her. Toward the end of her summer internship at a New York City fashion magazine, the veneer cracks and she is no longer able to keep up the facade. She returns to her suburban home in Massachusetts, and after learning she was turned down for a writing program to Harvard, succumbs to clinical depression, a disease that was barely recognized when this novel was published in 1963. She attempts suicide, nearly succeeds, and then is confined to an asylum with other women until she is “cured.”

What I liked about it: At first, I really didn’t like Esther. I thought she was vacuous and shallow. That was before I realized that she was putting forth a persona, the girl that she thought she was supposed to be, the “normal” girl. Once that persona started slipping, I came to understand her and sympathize with her. Knowing this novel was fairly autobiographical only made it come across as more tragic. For those of us who don’t have firsthand knowledge of what severe clinical depression is like, The Bell Jar is an invaluable tool for understanding. But the “bell jar” of the title doesn’t only refer to the trap that imprisons the depressed person in a deadened world where feeling is not possible. It also refers to the trap that imprisoned young women of the time, who had few options other than getting an Mrs. degree. This novel is about the struggle to escape both jars.

You may like it if: I think so many people can relate to this novel. Give it a try, see if it speaks to you.

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