Title: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath
Release Date: November 3, 2009
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Esther Greenwood is working in New York City at a magazine internship. She tries to fit in with her fellow interns, and only moderately succeeds. The stress of trying to connect with people she has nothing in common with, compounded with a professional setback after her internship ends, sets Esther on a downward spiral of depression from which there is seemingly no escape.
The Bell Jar is the story of Esther Greenwood’s descent into a horrible, life-consuming depression from which it seems as though there is no relief. At the beginning of the novel, Esther is seemingly normal. But it quickly becomes clear that Esther is unhappy with her life. She sees everything through a bell jar, through glasses which make everything around her look as negative as possible. It’s a frighteningly simple setback that tips the scales and leaves Esther in the full throes of depression.
Plath presents a hauntingly real portrayal of depression in The Bell Jar for good reason: the novel is based on her own experiences. As a result, Plath gets deep into Esther’s mind, into her emotions. While it’s disturbing, Plath doesn’t go for cheap shock value, as is too often the case in books dealing with mental illness. Esther’s emotions and feelings seem real; they have depth, and readers won’t help but be able to sympathize with Esther. It makes for a heavy read, though it’s never difficult – Plath’s steady prose ensures that the reader is never too bogged down to appreciate what is happening.
It’s easy to see why The Bell Jar has become such a modern classic. It’s reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye, except it has a much more compelling story and sympathetic main character in Esther. If you’ve been depressed before, the novel will speak to you in a real and disturbing way. You will likely see yourself mirrored in Esther and wonder how Plath, a woman writing over fifty years ago, could write your emotions in such a pitch-perfect manner. It’s haunting and incredibly done.
If you haven’t been depressed, The Bell Jar will still make an intriguing read. When Plath was writing, depression wasn’t as easily accepted as a mental issue as it is now. It’s interesting to consider the time period, and how things have changed, but also how so much has stayed exactly the same. Additionally, the deep, hard look into Esther’s mind will be both disturbing and fascinating, as you try to come to terms with this impressive novel.