Review: The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

     Yesterday, I finished reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and am still turning it over in my mind.  It’s one of those books that stay with you for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is the structure of the novel.  It starts out with the protagonist, Esther, (heavily based on Plath herself) in New York on a scholarship to work on a fashion magazine.  The first 70-100 pages follows her as she navigates new experiences and society far from her own.  In this way too, her world opens up and she sees possibilities that may have otherwise been hidden.
     The month in New York winds down, and the protagonist finds herself back at home in a Boston suburb.  At this point the novel shifts toward depression as Esther feels that a bell jar has descended upon her.  Plath does not explicitly state the cause of Esther’s depression, and for that reason the novel also stays with the reader.  While there may be contributing factors, the reader follows Esther along as she is examined by doctors and psychiatrists.  The medical professionals also seem to be at a loss for what is the causing Esther to feel the way she does.  To me, this seemed to illustrate well how depression was viewed at the time, and what it may be like to be depressed.
     The other area this novel explores are the relationships between men and women.  Esther does not want to fall into the same traps of marriage and family that seem to be expected.  How do people balance their wants and desires, how do they make families and careers work?  The Bell Jar is a novel that should be read, partly because of it’s place in feminist literature, and in how it captures a time period in the United States.

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