The Bell Jar

By Sylvia Plath,

Book cover of The Bell Jar

Book description

I was supposed to be having the time of my life.

When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther's…

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Why read it?

11 authors picked The Bell Jar as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath unscrews the top of her skull and invites us to peek inside. This is one of my favourite first-person narratives.

Considering Plath’s struggle with depression and her ultimate suicide, the book portrays the tribulations of a tortured artist in New York’s beatnik fifties. Plath’s lyrical language infuses the prose which appeals to my love of poetry.

Esther Greenwood, a bright and talented young woman, struggles with mental illness and thoughts of suicide.

The first psychiatrist she sees is unempathetic and prescribes a course of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) without explaining it well beforehand, which frightens her and proves unhelpful. A serious suicide attempt sends her to several psychiatric hospitals. Finally, Esther comes under the care of Dr. Nolan, a caring, compassionate psychiatrist.

I like the way Dr. Nolan works effectively, explaining and then supervising another course of ECT and also providing psychotherapy. With such appropriate and skilled treatment, the results are good.

From Monica's list on good and bad psychiatrists.

Back in my English major college days, I read an abundance of Victorian literature and American classics. Few made as big an impression as The Bell Jar, a book that settled into my psyche forever.

Initially, the book drew me in because I identified with the character—a female student at a small New England liberal arts college who aspires to work at a magazine in New York City. But it was Plath’s odyssey into depression that jumpstarted my interest in the intersection of chaos and genius.

I began asking questions: How can a brilliant literary mind be tortured by insecurities?…

The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s answer to J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye for women.

In today’s modern world, where we no longer have to view ourselves and our lives through the lens of white men, The Bell Jar takes the reader through a journey of self-discovery and madness in America in the 1960s; a time of change, war, uprising, and the second wave of feminism. A must-read for any woman who has questioned herself, or her sanity, along the way.

From Michelle's list on young adult books for women of all ages.

First published in 1961 under the name Victoria Lucas, The Bell Jar describes Esther Greenwood’s suicide attempt and subsequent “nervous breakdown,” loosely based on the author’s own experiences. With its wry, mordant humor, memorable scenes, and unexpected observations, the book has become a classic, its status tragically affirmed by Plath’s own suicide in 1963. Like many young women, I read it in my late teens, but I’ve returned to it more than once over the years. With time, the book resonates on different levels. Now, I identify less with Esther and admire her more. Only the second part of the…

This is an honest, eloquently told tale of a young woman's struggle with depression in a time (the 1950s) when few seemed to understand the illness, much less comprehend how to treat it. Of course, knowing enough of Plath’s life, it is challenging to separate the source from Esther Greenwood, the novel’s protagonist, since there are said to be close parallels with Plath's own experiences, but ultimately the quality of the writing transcends the morbidity and makes the journey of Esther quite rewarding.

From Daniel's list on character and personal journeys.

The Bell Jar is a brilliantly written novel on the result of trauma. The book takes the reader on a closely narrated journey of how the main character experiences her life. It reveals the inner upheaval and conflicts of mental ill-health caused by trauma and made me think of my own inner world. How our beliefs can differ from moment to moment and the way these affect the experience of the world around us. 

I never recommended fiction to my clients, but if I did, this would have been one that many of my female clients would have benefitted from.

Esther Greenwood is the ultimate rebel. Sassy, uncompromising, razor-sharp, questioning, and unwilling to make do. By the brutal exposure of how ridiculous gendered expectations are for women and highlighting the double standards of sexuality, ambitions, and futures between men and women, Plath wrote a novel that blew apart societal norms simultaneously revealing how they cause harm, and the energy that it takes to resist them. When I read this aged 15, I knew that things could be different, and it was my introduction and subsequent commitment to a life lived by feminist politics.

From Gail's list on rebellious women.

Sylvia Plath is one of my favorite poets, and the prose in her autobiographical novel is almost like a poem. It’s so evocative and layered with naturalistic symbolism. The unforgettable metaphor in the book’s title, The Bell Jar, likens depression to a bell jar that warps what is seen from inside of it. How true that is! 19-year-old protagonist Esther Greenwood is another character I totally identified with, a young person whose struggle to individuate is complicated by loss. Like me, Plath lost her father when she was young and she writes about him eloquently in her poems and…

While a beautiful novel on its own, The Bell Jar becomes heartbreaking when compared to the life of its writer, Sylvia Plath, who took her own life in 1963, a month after the novel’s publication. It is considered semi-autobiographical and follows a young woman experiencing a mental breakdown. Through the journey of Esther Greenwood, The Bell Jar’s protagonist, we look at New York in the 1950s, and we follow one woman’s discovery that the life she had always imagined for herself is not at all what she expected it to be. 

From Katrina's list on about haunted minds.

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