Book Recommendation: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


The Bell Jar By Sylvia Plath

Plath was an American poet, novelist and short story writer born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932.

She is without doubt one of the most admired poets of the 20thcentury and her heart wrenching and honest lyrics give an insight into Plath’s own struggle with mental health and the troubles that came with a difficult marriage to the poet, Ted Hughes.

Poem’s such as ‘Daddy’ highlight Plath’s difficult relationship with her father whilst the poem also reveals Plath’s feelings of betrayal when her father died. These difficult themes highlight how raw Plath’s poetry is as she collects the many conflicting emotions that come with grief, love and anger to display both the good and the bad side of human nature.

Plath’s only novel, The Bell Jar was first published in England in 1963 just one month before Plath committed suicide.

The Bell Jar is semi-autobiographical as events closely parallel Plath’s own life.

The story follows Esther Greenwood who, with a dozen other girls, wins a guest editor spot for a teen fashion magazine that allows her the opportunity to live in New York.

Esther is a straight-A student caught up in a dreary relationship. She is ambitious and goes against the idea of the expectations of women as wives and mothers and in doing so, Plath introduces themes of teenage exploration, ambition and feminism.

Plath also delves into the crisis of identity and sexuality as Esther tries to navigate through her teens and into the adult world. Plath’s writing is descriptive and, like her poetry, makes eloquent and honest observations about human nature, the madness of the world and the world of madness.

Sylvia Plath

Madness becomes a talking point to Esther as her mental health declines and she begins to feel as if she is within a bell jar as she claims, ‘wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.’

This ‘sour air’ is what eventually leads Esther to be taken into hospital after she attempts to take her own life. Autobiographical elements become apparent as Esther, after attempting to commit suicide is made to have electro-shock therapy.

It is a story that is elementally sad in its similarity to Plath’s own life, but Plath’s sharp wit turns the sad into the curious as she seeks to explore feelings of darkness without trying to understand or make sense of it.

The Bell Jar is a novel of the senses and the lack of the senses. The eventual growth of human disconnection is apparent through Esther as she battles with the world around her. The Bell Jaris a beautifully poetic novel and deserves its title as a classic.