The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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

33 thoughts on “The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

    1. I dint find it heavily depressing Hannah, I found it to be scattered in the beginning, but more interesting following her thoughts towards the middle and end of the book.:)

  1. I read this one in college, but I want to read it again. I’m curious how my thoughts might change (or not) after all these years (I was in college in the sixties!).

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Laurel i think this would be one at different times in your life would speak to you differently. It would be interesting if you had noted of your original reading of this to compare it to now. 🙂

  2. i found this book so deeply sad. it was really interesting to talk to my mother about it as she was at smith at the same time as plath, living in the dorm next door.

  3. I’ve been wanting to read this, but after reading the quote I feel like I need to read it sooner. The writing is far better than I thought it would be (not that I really had any clue, which was part of the problem I guess).

  4. I have been wanting to read this for AGES and just recently added a copy to my shelf. That passage you included was beautiful and powerful! I definitely want to pick this book up soon!!

  5. Man. This was a tough book to read. I first read it on a sunny summer day, alone by the pool. I wanted to drown myself after a couple of hours. It was so well-written that I couldn’t put it down even though I was so depressed reading it!

    1. I didn’t find it so depressing and I am not sure why…. I found it to be a cry for help, and think that Sylvia had put a lot of thought into her later suicide and I think she exercised her creative thoughts on that through the book.

      It is well written isnt it! 🙂

  6. I loved this book when I read it in high school. I still think it’s one of the best accounts of major depression I’ve ever read. When I was coming of age, before Prozac, I found it comforting to know I wasn’t alone. 🙂

  7. One of my favorite reads from this year! Not an easy read, I agree, but worth every minute I spent on it! I was shocked too by how much the book parallels her life – esp one of the last passages where she wonders that how did she know for sure that the illness won’t come back to haunt her again. I tell you, I had goosebumps!

    Btw, did you ever understand the blood scene – where she bled so much after her first sex? I couldn’t understand what happened and she didn’t share either (I think.)

  8. This is one of the few books of my adult life that I have read more than once. I think the fact that it is semi autobiographical, coupled with the tragedy of Plath’s life, really adds to the allure for me.

  9. My book club is about ready to pick books for next year and we always read one classic. Glad to hear what your book club thought of this one; think I’ll have to offer it up as a choice.

    1. Its a good discussion read Lisa, however if you want a classic recommendation for a book club I would highly recommend To Kill A Mockingbird – so much to discuss in that one!

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