Review: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Bell JarThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Released: 14th January 1963 (original)
Published by: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Genre: Modern Classics
Source: Library
Pages: 244
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Goodreads | Bookworld | Book Depository
Esther Greenwood is at college and is fighting two battles, one against her own desire for perfection in all things - grades, boyfriend, looks, career - and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens she finds herself encased in it, bell-jarred away from the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality. Highly readable, witty and disturbing, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath's only novel and was originally published under a pseudonym in 1963. What it has to say about what women expect of themselves, and what society expects of women, is as sharply relevant today as it has always been.
I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.

Sylvia Plath is widely renowned for her poignant confessional poetry, and in this case with her first and only novel, she demonstrated her skill as a writer and ability to craft a story that contains some parallels to her own tumultuous life. Written in Plath's signature style of unflinching honesty and a touch of satire, its plot is an enthralling and thought-provoking one. It provides a unique insight into the life of Esther Greenwood, a nineteen year old student trying to balance her ambitions with the expectations of American society at the time; along with her increasingly unstable mental state.

If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I'm neurotic as hell. I'll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.

From the very beginning of this work I was engrossed in the pages and drawn to Plath's captivating prose. Every description has the perfect words which form sentences that flow so well. I could truly imagine what it would be like in New York in the 1950's and understand the path that Esther was taking. It explores her cynical perspectives of some of the other women in her group at the magazine internship to trying to manage relationships and find her place in 'the bell jar' which she feels trapped in,  Esther's character seemed to be developed to be both real and flawed at the same time due to her own idiosyncrasies and nuances. Every element of this novel fitted together to communicate her downward spiral into depression and eventual suicidal tendencies, which is confronting, while providing a perspective on what the view was regarding mental illness back then.

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my eyes and all is born again.

Her encroaching descent into madness is explored somewhat subtly at first, until the telltale cracks in her facade begin to appear. From spending time in various mental institutions, experiencing electroshock therapy and seeking relief from her illness, Esther's character undergoes some drastic transformations. She never wished to be the stereotypical 1950's housewife, and craved independence as a writer and as a woman. Towards the end there is an air of ambivalence present, and while the ending is not what I may have expected, when I came to think about it I found it quite fitting. 


If you are a fan of Plath's work and haven't read this book, then I would definitely recommend it. Her ability to write such moving works may come from experience, but are nonetheless created to a standard which allows them to stand on their own accord. This is a novel that I will remember for a long time, and may even find myself re-visiting somewhere down the track.


  1. I haven't read anything by Plath before but I am really keen on this one. Her writing seems so powerful, and I love the story line already!

    Lovely review, girl! <33

    1. It's definitely really moving and emotive writing - which suits this book so well! Thanks Mel, if you're interested in trying something by Plath then I'd definitely recommend this one :)

  2. Fantastic reveiw, Genie - I can't wait to read this one!


Feel free to leave a comment below - I love reading them!