The Bell Jar is told from the perspective of Esther Greenwood. You would think she had the perfect life… young, beautiful, talented, successful… yet she is deeply troubled and sinking fast. She starts with a painful month in New York after she won a contest to be Junior Editor on a magazine. What most girls her age would be fascinated to win, Esther only found it troubling. She has a troubled relationship with her mother, and with a boy she dates on again and off again, but really finds she can not commit to anything -including life itself.
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A bell jar is a piece of laboratory equipment similar in shape to a bell. It can be manufactured out of a variety of materials, ranging from glass to different types of metals. A bell jar is placed on a base which is vented to a hose fitting, which can be connected via a hose to a vacuum pump. By pumping the air out of the bell jar, a vacuum is formed.
I read this with my book club for our annual October Classic read. I love that we commit to a classic every year and good or bad, the discussions over a classic are always pretty fantastic. When we reviewed this on Tuesday, I was not done with the read and I blew a chance to really analyze this book with my group. I finished this a couple of days after.
I had read up on Sylvia Plath’s life prior to this book and was extremely fascinated by how much this book parallels her life. While the book is about a deep depression, I did not find it depressing. The start of the book is her time in New York and the last third is while she is in a Mental Hospital. As one of the girls in our book club stated, as Esther finds herself deeper in her depression and break down – the writing becomes even more beautiful.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
While not the easiest read, I think it is an important one. As I flip between the pages of information I have on Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar’s Esther Greenwood… I can’t help but think how much of this book is Sylvia’s story.
The book first published in January if 1961, and Sylvia Plath committed suicide in February of 1963. It was first published under the name of Victoria Lucas. The novel was not published under Sylvia’s name until 1967 and not published in the United States until 1971 per the wishes of Plath’s mother and husband.
Why Was The Bell Jar Banned?
The Bell Jar has been challenged because it openly rejects traditional marriage and motherhood. It has also been challenged for it’s characters discussion of sexuality.
I purchased this book at the local fall library sale