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“The Bell Jar” August 5, 2008

Posted by Michelle, with dignity in Uncategorized.


Cover for the first edition (Thanks to Wikipedia!)

Cover for the first edition (Thanks to Wikipedia!)

A little over a month ago, I read Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”.  It had been on my “must read this book…eventually” list for years, so I took the opportunity I would have on vacation at the beach to actually get around to reading it.  


I knew what it was about.  The poor girl, trying to make a life for her own away from her crazy family and her tiny, tiny town.  She moves to New York to work for a publishing company.  She goes out, meets men, gets drunk and/or sick.  She moves home, and mental breakdown ensues.  Sounds really beautiful, right?

Esther Greenwood tries to desperately to like the things the girls around her like, but she is disenchanted with big city life and social engagements required of her in New York City.  She defines herself as an accomplished academic, and the turn in the story happens when Esther is rejected from a prominent writer’s course she applied for.  Slowly, and almost unwillingingly, the reader is sucked into the crumbling world of Esther, before the reader even knows that Esther has begun her breakdown.

Esther, while trying to write her novel, refuses to bathe, attempts suicide, and alienates her family.  Eventually her mother signs her up for treatment, Electro-Shock Therapy, an experience that frightens Esther greatly.  The title of the book comes from a comment Esther makes about living under a “bell jar” for everyone to look at.  The end of the book is spent while Esther is in a treatment facility, coming to terms with her new life.  

Plath’s account of Esther’s breakdown is rumoured to be autobiographical in nature, describing her own experiences with depression or bi-polar disorder.  The beauty in this book is how easily the reader slips into Esther’s life without knowing what is happening to Esther.  The book reads quickly as Esther’s point of view is captivating and almost charming.  Then, almost suddenly, the book ends, and the reader is left wondering where exactly the breakdown started, where it ended, did it end, and “How did I read all that without knowing what was happening”?  

Plath’s only American novel is a great one, albeit a little on the sad side.  She took her own life a month after it’s publication in 1963.

Do I recommend this book?  Yes, I think that it belongs on reading lists if nothing else than the ease of which Plath relates the story – it’s beautifully written.  It’s a quick read, too.



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