Title: The Bell Jar
Authors: Sylvia Plath
Genre: Literary Fiction | Classics
Setting: Boston, Massachusetts and New York (USA)
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2006)
REASONS WHY I READ THIS BOOK:
The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s only novel. The book is believed to be semi-autobiographical, drawing inspiration from the author’s experiences and also from her stay at McLean Hospital where she received psychiatric care. In the MIA Reading Challenge, I chose this amongst the many recommended books that tackle mental illness. I also read this for the Banned Books Reading Challenge by Buckling Bookshelves and the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. Sylvia Plath is no stranger to many of us. She is mostly known for her enormous talent for writing, her poetry and her tragic death.
The Bell Jar starts with Esther Greenwood in New York where she is spending her time there as an intern at a big-time fashion magazine. While this looks like a dream job for her, she feels alienated and detached from her surroundings. She does not seem to be enjoying it there. She knows she should be happy, but she just can’t make herself relish the experience. Throughout the book Esther is plagued with confusion and discouragement. Although immensely talented and intelligent, she doesn’t know what path to take in her career, and constantly struggles with her relationships. Unfortunately, this amplifies the pressure she feels to conform to what society expects from an intelligent young woman like her. The rest of the story deals with Esther trying to make sense of everything while dealing with a breakdown, suicidal thoughts and her need to make something out of her life. The Bell Jar gives an unflinching account of how a talented young woman’s life descends into depression and suicidal tendencies. Sylvia Plath portrayed a young woman, who found that with some miniscule effort, she can continue on with life, but she had lost the confidence to overcome the obstacles that seemed to have not been present before. She is drifting and unfocused. Do we judge her then for what she feels? Can we act accordingly even when depression seem vague and distant a topic to most of us? How dangerous it is to not fully understand what they’re going through, and not know how to help. While the book centers on Esther, this multi-layered story also depicts the pressures that society imposes on individuals, while also tackling issues such as sexuality and violence.
The first half of The Bell Jar started well. I was drawn to Esther’s story. Esther’s breakdown was portrayed delicately at first then the darker details were added. After a while, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know what was going to happen next, and honestly, I felt tempted to stop reading because I was feeling a little depressed myself. I didn’t stop though. So the fact that I didn’t stop reading probably says something about me enjoying it to a certain degree, but never fully liking it. Maybe if Esther was someone I personally knew, I would have extended a hand (stubbornly) even if she turned me away. I don’t know if this is the right way to do it in every circumstance and in every person who suffers from depression and mental illness, but this is fiction and truth be told, even if my heart wished for her to be better, there was this nagging feeling that she won’t get better. I knew that she will be continually ‘tested’ and it will end in tragedy in one way or another. It was very well-written, that I’m sure. The thoughts and story glide easily. It was generally readable but it just felt so ’emotionally-wrecking’ for me. Her “don’t-care” attitude affected me. It wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
- “Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College at the University of Cambridge, before receiving acclaim as a poet and writer. She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956; they lived together in the United States and then England, and had two children, Frieda and Nicholas. Plath suffered from depression for much of her adult life, and in 1963 she committed suicide. Controversy continues to surround the events of her life and death, as well as her writing and legacy.” – Wikipedia
- The Bell Jar was inspired by many events from Sylvia Plath’s own life, including her scholarship at Mademoiselle magazine which started in 1953.
- The first edition of The Bell Jar was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.
- According to this article, “Mrs. Plath (Sylvia Plath’s mother) blocked publication of the novel in the United States for eight years, saying it represented “the basest ingratitude” to those who had loved and helped Sylvia Plath.“
- Sylvia Plath is known mostly for her poetry. Some of her notable works include Ariel, Crossing the Water, and The Collected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize.