“I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”
Official Synopsis from Goodreads:
The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.
Genre: Autobiographical Novel ISBN: 0060837020 FORMAT: Paperback PUBLISHER: HarperCollins GET A COPY: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository / Fullybooked
The first edition of this book was originally published under Sylvia Plath’s pseudonym, Victoria Lucas. It looks like this:
I’ve been looking for this edition for quite some time now but I can’t seem to find it as it is extremely rare. This edition was published in 1963. On the other hand, my own copy of the book, which was pictured above, was published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics in 2009. I picked up the book because I liked the color and the feel it gives off. (You can get your own copy here.)
This book is about the main character aka Esther Greenwood’s mental illness (depression), which is a serious topic. Plath gave light to this illness in a careful, very honest and painful way.
This piece is one of the most straightforward novels about depression that I’ve read.
WHAT DOES THE BELL JAR MEAN?
The Bell Jar is an environment in which someone is protected or cut-off from the outside world. As Frances McCullough defined this term in the Foreword section of the book, the Bell Jar experience is the sudden descent into deep depression that had triggered her [Sylvia Plath’s] first suicide attempt in the summer described in the novel.
It is a direct representation of Plath’s mental suffocation by the unavoidable settling of depression upon her. This occurrence greatly altered the way she maneuvered her life. Plath narrated this lucidly through her fictional character named Esther Greenwood.
Esther, a young woman of the 1950s, is the protagonist and the narrator of this novel. She is an intelligent woman who got all straight A’s in her classes and believes that she was supposed to be “having the time of her life” in college. Despite being knowledgeable and successful, she was not able to escape the bell jar experience.
She felt dull and flat and full of shattered visions. She couldn’t see the point of getting up and she had nothing to look forward to. She’s someone who couldn’t steer anything in her life even herself. Her own terrifying world occupied her thoughts completely. She is imprisoned within her own mind and ended up being in and going out of the asylum.
She is mentally ill. She is depressed.
TRIGGER WARNING: Suicide, Depression
The first thing I always notice in the book I’m reading is the writing style. It usually determines whether I’ll finish reading the book or not.
The Bell Jar is a classic novel. Although this is under that category, the writing is simple and understandable. In my observation, classic books are often taught in school but are picked up only because a person is forced to do so. This is the kind of book that is often mistaken as deep and boring and is not usually read and sometimes avoided by some people. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) But Plath has written this novel in a way that pierces the mind of the reader using a simple, yet intelligent choice of words. Sylvia Plath articulated the emotions I have spent so much time trying to put into words.
One thing I like so much about this book is the fact that Plath included a description about how society expects women to behave and how a woman like Esther decided to go against it. Esther Greenwood’s words are relatable, poetic and thought-provoking. Throughout this book, I felt like I was reading somebody’s diary. I felt like I knew Esther personally. I felt so attached to the character because her thoughts and monologues affect me in so many levels. I felt a direct connection to the main character’s emotions and I didn’t find it hard to be sympathetic about it.I cared about Esther and the things that happened to her. I cared about her views on certain things. Her relationship with other characters is realistic as well. (I decided not to go over the other characters because I would like this review to be as spoiler-free as possible.)
The author used the characters’ ambition, hypocrisy, anger, and sadness to pull together all the other elements of the work. I liked how different the characters are compared to the usual fictional characters of any genres.
With regards to the plot, Plath combined flashbacks and current events to construct an electrifying and unforgettable plot. I was constantly trying to turn the next page because I wanted to know what happens next. In my opinion, this made the book hard to put down.
To sum it all up, The Bell Jar is a timeless and an intensely emotional novel. It is a great read for all occasions but I specifically recommend this book to feminists and readers aged 18 and above as it has some sensitive contents.
MEET SYLVIA PLATH
Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachussetts, in 1932. She graduated from Smith College in 1955 and won a Fullbright Scholarship to Cambridge University. Her many books include the poetry collection Ariel, Winter Trees, and The Collected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize. The Bell Jar is her only novel. She was married to the poet Ted Hughes, and together they had two children. She died in London in 1963. (Source: The Bell Jar book Extras)
Have you read The Bell Jar already? What are your thoughts about it? Let me know in the comments section below!
Do you want to get to know the author through her other writings? Well, when she was still alive, she had written her everyday thoughts and activities in a journal. Who would have thought this intimate piece would go public? Not her, of course.
Fortunately and unfortunately, her brilliant mind was exposed beautifully through her writing and we are lucky to have access to it. If you want to read some of her amazing and quote-worthy sentences, you can click this link right now. Happy Reading!