Book Review: The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Title: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath
ISBN: 9780061849909
Pages: 336
Release Date: November 3, 2009
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Classics
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

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.

Review:

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.

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Comments

  1. Ahhh The Bell Jar! Always has been one of my favorites!
    Great review.

  2. Ahhh The Bell Jar! Always has been one of my favorites!
    Great review.

  3. I have this book on my shelves. I appreciate the reminder because I DO want to read it. I’m tempted to suggest it for one of my book clubs (the one where the “leader” hates girl books…the leader that refused to let us read The Handmaid’s Tale).

  4. I have this book on my shelves. I appreciate the reminder because I DO want to read it. I’m tempted to suggest it for one of my book clubs (the one where the “leader” hates girl books…the leader that refused to let us read The Handmaid’s Tale).

  5. I’ve never read The Bell Jar. I want to read it now.

  6. I’ve never read The Bell Jar. I want to read it now.

  7. I remember reading The Bell Jar two years back! It was… interesting. A little too heavy but some parts were so compelling and insightful, as you said. But the first lines of the book gave me the chills… when comparing the author’s life story with the first lines of The Bell Jar.

  8. I remember reading The Bell Jar two years back! It was… interesting. A little too heavy but some parts were so compelling and insightful, as you said. But the first lines of the book gave me the chills… when comparing the author’s life story with the first lines of The Bell Jar.

  9. I’ve never read The Bell Jar, something to think about.

  10. I’ve never read The Bell Jar, something to think about.

  11. I read it years ago, prior to my battle with depression. I don’t think I understood it then. Sounds like I should give it another go. Thanks for a great review!

  12. I read it years ago, prior to my battle with depression. I don’t think I understood it then. Sounds like I should give it another go. Thanks for a great review!

  13. I have always wanted to read this, and have heard that it’s an extremely brilliant picture of depression. I don’t know why I haven’t tried to grab a copy of this one yet, but I am thinking that your review is the push I need to see if I can grab this one from the library. I loved your thorough and sensitive approach to this review, and really enjoyed reading it. Thanks, Swapna!

  14. I have always wanted to read this, and have heard that it’s an extremely brilliant picture of depression. I don’t know why I haven’t tried to grab a copy of this one yet, but I am thinking that your review is the push I need to see if I can grab this one from the library. I loved your thorough and sensitive approach to this review, and really enjoyed reading it. Thanks, Swapna!

  15. I’ve started this book before but then sort of fizzled out on reading it. One day I will try again!

  16. I’ve started this book before but then sort of fizzled out on reading it. One day I will try again!

  17. I read this years ago when I was suffering from severe clinical depression and was amazed at how Plath captured the descent and the feelings so well. I wonder that it might not be too painful to read now.

    At any rate, everyone should read it at least once.

  18. I read this years ago when I was suffering from severe clinical depression and was amazed at how Plath captured the descent and the feelings so well. I wonder that it might not be too painful to read now.

    At any rate, everyone should read it at least once.

  19. I read this one a few years back and really enjoyed it (which is different considering the subject matter). But it was a really good read that stuck with me for a long time. I’m definitely going to have to read it again at some point! Great review!

  20. I read this one a few years back and really enjoyed it (which is different considering the subject matter). But it was a really good read that stuck with me for a long time. I’m definitely going to have to read it again at some point! Great review!

  21. Anonymous says:

    I love this Book i’ve read it in my book club every year

  22. Anonymous says:

    I love this Book i’ve read it in my book club every year

  23. Your take on this is very similar to my own. I read it a long time ago but the impression it made on me has been lasting. It gave me an insight into mental illness and depression in particular that nothing I have read since has bettered.

    It was not a fun read though. Good as it was, I have never been tempted to re-read it – I’m not sure I could face it.

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