The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar

eBook - 1999
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'A modern classic.' Guardian

'A near-perfect work of art.' Joyce Carol Oates

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

Working as an intern for a New York fashion magazine in the summer of 1953, Esther Greenwood is on the brink of her future. Yet she is also on the edge of a darkness that makes her world increasingly unreal. Esther's vision of the world shimmers and shifts: day-to-day living in the sultry city, her crazed men-friends, the hot dinner dances . . .

The Bell Jar , Sylvia Plath's only novel, is partially based on Plath's own life. It has been celebrated for its darkly funny and razor sharp portrait of 1950s society, and has sold millions of copies worldwide.


'As clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing.' New York Times Book Review

Reader responses:

'Plath's underrated humour shines through this startling account of 1950s 'normality'.'

'Very readable, often darkly funny, and feels fresh.'

'Plath's masterpiece . . . It's amazing how relevant this book still is.'

'So enthralling . . . So thought provoking, so vivid, that it's thoroughly engrossing.'

'I just couldn't put it down.'

'Ever better than I expected.'

Publisher: London : Faber and Faber, 1999
ISBN: 9780571248209
Characteristics: 1 online resource (257 pages)


From Library Staff

Classic semi-autobiographical novel by a renowned poet deals with the expectations society places on women, while exploring a young woman’s sexuality and chronicling her mental breakdown.

ROMAN À CLEF. Date: 1963. Language: English (American).

Classic semi-autobiographical novel by a renowned poet deals with the expectations society places on women, while exploring a young woman’s sexuality and chronicling her mental breakdown.

Sylvia Plath’s intense description of depression is utterly bleak and wretched.

Classic semi-autobiographical novel by a renowned poet deals with the expectations society places on women, while exploring a young woman’s sexuality and chronicling her mental breakdown.

From the critics

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Sep 03, 2020

This is a wonderful disaster. Honestly, I want to re-read it because I really do relate to Esther's struggles. You watch this woman spiral into depression and suicidal thoughts. It is a heavy read and there are times when this book can get complicated and a little hard to follow. Still, a very interesting and heartbreaking read.

Jul 31, 2020

Esther Greenwood was supposed to be having the time of her life. She had a year until college graduation, pursuing an honors program on a full scholarship and enjoying a vacational internship in Manhattan. Yet she was crumbling on the inside. ⁣

The problems were too numerous. She yearned for independence but could not discern any specific path of her goal. She was self-loathing but also self-sympathetic. She was depressed but did not know it. Rather than a stepping stone towards the future, her time in Manhattan was a self-exploratory journey gone wrong, exposing all the existential, gender, and socioeconomic problems she had been suppressing for too long. ⁣

Sylvia Plath was a powerful writer, especially in her narrative of depression and female oppression. Even before she elucidated the bell jar as the socioeconomic, gender, psychological and social barrier that will forever act as Esther’s personal Sword of Damocles, I had a sense of this gooey, suffocating iridescent purple gel that loomed over the entire book. Whenever I picked it up, it was as if I were holding a piece of airtight grey cloud that was ready to burst. ⁣

While I was reading, I kept imaging this plastic ballerina doll strapped to her pole and her mouth opened wide in a silent scream. I had considered it the product of her latent depression, but at the end of the story, I realized that it was also one of her obsession with the appearance of self-possession. ⁣

While we might not all have personal experiences with depression, many of us also twirl beneath the same burnished bell jar. On it might be a hologram of effortless perfection, but within we are choking on its fatal purple film. The antidote? Probably unobtainable, but if there were an immediate solution, it would be the willingness to at least wipe the illusion of perfection and unite our ambitions and accomplishments with our insecure, imposter-syndrome-filled selves. ⁣

I would have given this book 4 stars had it not been for the racism. While some might say that using derogatory words targeting African, Chinese, Indian and other minorities was a “norm” for Sylvia Plath’s time, the protagonist and narrator, Esther, only uses these words when she wishes to highlight her physical and aesthetic deficiencies. ⁣⁣
So we know that Esther, and probably Plath herself (since this work is semi-autobiographical) holds some curious racial connotations concerning beauty and appearances. It is not “just slurs.”

Jun 17, 2020

Read this for the first time and loved it almost instantly, truly a classic !

Feb 12, 2020

Sylvia Plath was one of the 20th century's most famous poets, who stuck her head in her oven,and perished. She was married until death to another (not quite so famous of a) poet, Ted Hughes. Can a woman as unhappy as apparently she was achieve happiness in a marriage?

Feb 03, 2020

I loved this book - the inner monologue, Esther's mentally burdened perspective, the prose, the simplicity of the story. Riding along in Sylvia's psychologically ailed and depressed mind was actually quite refreshing. And I could not get enough of the beautiful way in which she described EVERYTHING. It seemed every other sentence made me think! and helped me see things differently. Leaves blowing across a street, water dripping, etc. were so much more than just leaves blowing across a street, water dripping, etc.

Dec 05, 2019

I hated this book. It was very boring, and I didn't like the main character.

ArapahoeTina Nov 06, 2019

Ah, Sylvia. Her prose is lovely and, of course, poetic. She brings her characteristic confessional style to this, her only novel.

Oct 08, 2019

Love this title! Such a relatable coming-of-age story.

Jun 08, 2019

I was expecting a kind of raw confessional outpouring, but this book was more artful in its narration and reveals Plath as a very talented observer and prose writer. Even her refusal to allow Esther Greenwood to appear "nice" in any way is a deliberate artistic choice. But I wondered what was the point at the end. The story didn't seem to have any shape other than a record of a young woman's increasing depression, mental health breakdown, and (ambiguous) recovery.

May 18, 2019

A story of the life of a young becoming writer in New York. Bound to become the next successful writer. But "nobody looks like what they are on the inside" perfectly describes Esther Greenwood, there is more she doesn’t show.
I wouldn’t pick up this book were it not for my high school English assignment. I felt sadness, it describes depressed and suicidal thoughts but it is not gory, it goes into detail enough for the reader to get a feeling. Part of my family has a background of varying mental illnesses. I have an idea of what it feels like and the fact that Plath herself committed suicide made this book more significant. Plath did not plan for her book to be published in America, she feared people would recognize the characters, she kept some of their real names. A biography and a novel at the same time. She must have had similar feelings and experiences.
This book is a great view of someone who has mental illnesses. It’s short, easy language, and in some ways I found it relatable. It isn’t overwhelming. Also, the Bell Jar is a metaphor for how Esther feels. She feels stuck in her own head unable to escape thoughts of self doubt and dejection - trapped.
The Bell Jar is a classic. Unique in its time, it explores how society views a woman, mental illness and treatment. Rating: 4/5
@TreeHugger of the Hamilton Public Library's Teen Review Board

The Bell Jar is a novel by the famous poet, Sylvia Plath, but originally published under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas" in 1963. The story is based on Plath’s personal experiences following the character Esther Greenwood who is an aspiring writer, who is uncertain in her place in the world. Esther’s mental health slowly deteriorates over the course of the book leaving her neurotic and suicidal, until one day her mental plague is unbearable and she makes an almost tragic action leaving her hospitalized. I would recommend this book because Plath is an extremely intelligent writer and tells her story beautifully.
@GoosReviews of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

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Add a Quote
ArapahoeTina Nov 15, 2019

"I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am."

ArapahoeTina Nov 15, 2019

“I felt limp and betrayed, like the skin shed by a terrible animal. It was a relief to be free of the animal, but it seemed to have taken my spirit with it, and everything else it could lay its paws on.”

ArapahoeTina Nov 15, 2019

“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

Aug 23, 2019

“I don’t see what women see in other women,” I’d told Dr. Nolan in my interview that noon. “What does a woman see in a woman that she can’t see in a man?” Dr. Nolan pauses. Then she said, “Tenderness.” That shut me up.

Aug 23, 2019

The floor seemed wonderfully solid. It was comforting to know I had fallen and could fall no further.

Laura_X Aug 03, 2018

I woke to the sound of rain.

Jul 06, 2016

“If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”

SPL_STARR Jun 15, 2015

"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York."

Laura_X May 01, 2015

So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state.

Jun 17, 2011

"There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them."

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ArapahoeTina Feb 06, 2020

ArapahoeTina thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

EuSei Aug 16, 2012

EuSei thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

EuSei Aug 16, 2012

EuSei thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Mar 25, 2012

RICHARD LIU thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


Add a Summary
Jul 06, 2016

Sylvia Plath's shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity.

Jul 06, 2016

Esther Greenwood, a college student from Massachusetts, travels to New York to work on a magazine for a month as a guest editor. Esther returns to the Boston suburbs and discovers that she has not been accepted to a writing class she had planned to take. She will spend the summer with her mother instead. Esther awakens to find herself in the hospital. She has survived her suicide attempt with no permanent physical injuries. Once her body heals, she is sent to the psychological ward in the city hospital, where she is uncooperative, paranoid, and determined to end her life.


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