The Bell Jar, By Sylvia Plath

What’s This Book All About?

Originally published in 1963, The Bell Jar is the only full-length novel written by Sylvia Plath. It is a semi-autobiographical novel that depicts the childhood desires and decline into madness of Ester Greenwood, the supposed alter-ego of Plath.

The Bigger Picture

Don’t get me wrong, but this is not a feel good book. But sometimes it is important to read such books, because they provide us a mirror to the suffering of those people, who are more often than not silenced by the rest of society. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 450 million people worldwide have a mental illness. Despite the fact that this number is rising everyday, there are very few books that reflect the pain, trauma and suffering that people with mental illness undergo, like this book does.

One of the best parts of The Bell Jar is that it is impossible not to be affected by the book, especially because it in some way mirrors the life of the author. Even when the book ends, there is little comfort because it just brings home the fact, that most incidents/thoughts in the book is based on reality.

Deeply unsettling and written with complete lack of emotions, this book does not talk about feelings, but more about thoughts and perceptions. With so much stigma surrounding depression today, many people often confuse it with sadness. However, reading the book I felt that Esther was not a sad women but an empty one who contemplates suicide with an ease that is truly alarming. Perhaps the single greatest achievement of Plath’s novel is its outright commitment to truthfulness at all times and her refusal to transform her experiences into something more dramatic than it actually was!

Sylvia Plath Quote

Esther Greenwood is a young, well-educated and witty woman whose life spirals into depression after she moves to New York.  Here she rejects the advances of male suitors as she gradually slips out of control, frustrated with the gender constrictions imposed by society as well as the shock therapy used in mental wards. Her struggle to stay afloat in this sea of melancholy is what drives the entire story.

The Bell Jar raises a lot of questions that are relevant even today. It was for me a book that is extremely sensitive, courageous and intelligent at the same time. It gives the reader a  sincere and direct outlook on many things including the taboo related to mental illness, perception of females in the western world, the medieval treatment of mental health issues, the classification of non-conformist identity as mental illness from the point of view of someone who had to endure them in a very personal manner. So even though Plath provides us with a voice that is not entirely likeable, she is someone with whom many readers would empathise and sympathise to a great degree. I believe that different readers will have different reactions to the character of Esther, while some will treat her with indifference, others would dislike her while there would be those who feel a deep sense of solidarity with her. That being said, The Bell Jar is something that should be read by everybody who has even a slight interest in psychology or feminism as it deals with these issues in quite an elaborate manner.

Final Verdict

Buy because some books are classics for a reason and they deserve to be part of your most prized books.

As I have said before, this book is not an easy read, but they will open your eyes to many things that are still considered taboo in our society today. Though this book ends on a somewhat optimistic manner, it is overshadowed by the fact that the author eventually committed suicide; it is the experience and tragic life of Plath that makes this semi-autobiographical novel, a classic in the true sense. In conclusion, The Bell Jar is stunning portrayal of a particular time in a person’s life and a brave attempt by Sylvia Plath to face her own demons. It is sure to read by many for generations to come.