The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is an amazing writer. She uses exquisite language to convey herself. I could open to any page of the book to demonstrate this, i.e.:

When we came out of the sunnily lit interior of the Ladies’ Day offices, the streets were grey and fuming with rain. It wasn’t the nice kind of rain that rinses you clean, but the sort of rain I imagine they must have in Brazil. It flew straight down from the sky in drops the size of coffee saucers and hit the hot sidewalks with a hiss that sent clouds of steam writhing up from the gleaming, dark concrete.


In The Bell Jar, Plath writes in part-biography – it’s based largely on her own experiences, but with names and places changed.

We start by meeting the main character Esther in New York in the middle of her internship at a fancy fashion magazine. She and several other girls won the opportunity by submitting some writing, and get to go to an array of events and get free things.

We learn that Esther is nonchalant, self assured and extremely intelligent. But, after some bad experiences in New York (including awful food poisoning and a crazy, abusive date), Esther returns to her home town only to find out she’s missed out on a writing scholarship she was counting on. She’s sent into a spiral of depression that goes incredibly dark places.

It’s horrendous being in the mind of Esther (and in reality, Plath) as she goes through this. At first she’s just melancholy and lethargic, but soon she becomes dead set on ending her life. She considers slitting her wrists in the bath, she tries to hang herself in her house, she tries to drown herself, and eventually she overdoses on sleeping pills. After a few days, she’s found still alive in her hiding hole under the house. This actually happened to Sylvia Plath too, shockingly.

After this, Esther is entered into psychiatric care. She receives awful shock treatments, and insulin therapy later on. It’s a world of suspicion and mistrust of health professionals, and other interesting patients. The Bell Jar unveils some shocking truths about the way patients were treated in the 50s/60s.

Esther never really seems to get better, but at the end of the book she’s about to head back to college and resume some kind of normal life. The end of the novel is almost too real, as we aren’t given any form of closure that Esther will go on to live a good life. And then, a few months after this book was published, Sylvia Plath actually ended her own life. It’s tragic, and extremely dark. I’d recommend to read this one with care, as it doesn’t take you to a very nice place. Still, I thought it was a masterpiece.

Oh… and, “the bell jar” is a beautifully apt description of depression. Plath describes it as being stifled under a bell jar – like unable to escape the vicinity of your own mind.

4 thoughts on “The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

  1. This sounds so sad and beautiful. It’s a book (and writer) that I’m very aware of but I’ve never thought to read anything by her before as I associate her with poetry which isn’t my thing but I really want to read this now.


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