As someone who has struggled with depression and is also attending the same women’s college as Plath did, this novel was very real for me. Sylvia Plath struggled with depression and ultimately ended her life, so it makes sense that she would be able to write about the mental illness with such veracity. From the reactions of those around Esther to the way she can’t get out of bed to go visit with friends, these are all things I have experienced and really appreciated in the novel.
Aside from the strength of this theme, this novel is an excellent exploration of the social conditions at the time and sadly, now. Esther has many different encounters with the men and women in her social group. Through these encounters, she sifts through the complexity of what it means to be a woman in her society and the disparities for men and women in themes of sexuality and class. The writing was very simple which I enjoy as it is able to get the point across much more effectively.
What I really appreciated about this novel was the disconnect and isolation Esther goes through. Starting off in a very social setting with friends, she slowly descends further into a state of isolation and dissociation that I have experienced myself. Her experiences with suicide attempts are all very detached. Often, storytellers tend to want to make suicide attempts very emotional and overdramatic. This is not the case most of the time, and in my experience, this detachment to the experience that Esther describes is much more real.
Obviously, The Bell Jar is a classic, and I am only restating what everyone else has said when they implore you to read this book. If you have struggled with depression, this book might be triggering, but it could also be a reminder that you are not alone in this struggle. If you do not know what it is like to suffer from mental illness, I recommend you read this book to understand a little more.
Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer.
Known primarily for her poetry, Plath also wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The book’s protagonist, Esther Greenwood, is a bright, ambitious student at Smith College who begins to experience a mental breakdown while interning for a fashion magazine in New York. The plot parallels Plath’s experience interning at Mademoiselle magazine and subsequent mental breakdown and suicide attempt…more.