The Bell Jar was written by Pulitzer Prize winner Sylvia Plath and was first published in 1963 under her pseudonym, Victoria Lucas. It is a semi-autobiographical story told by the narrator, Esther Greenwood, taking the reader on a trip through her sexual confusion, depression, and the treatment she went through to get better. A few months after publication, her suffering through years of depression and many failed suicide attempts, Sylvia Plath committed suicide by inhaling gas from an oven. This was her only novel as she focused more on poetry.
I started reading The Bell Jar because I was really curious about who Sylvia Plath was. I was browsing through the internet when I saw Sylvia Plath so I dug a little deeper to find she suffered with depression for a majority of her life. She married Ted Hughes, another poet, and had two children before her death at 30 years old. The book itself had me on edge the whole time I read it. Esther’s confusion about her ideas on sexuality and new experiences was in contrast with what was perceived as socially acceptable. What I found interesting was she, to me, was a modern woman. I found her relatable in her desires to experience a full and stimulating life in spite of what other’s find acceptable is something we’ve all struggled with.
Another aspect that is interesting to think about is how she was confronting her depression and her treatment. The setting is during a time where doctors believed shock therapy was a reasonable treatment to all mental illnesses, especially for women. Reading about Esther and many other women’s suffering through shock treatments was intense, and her descriptions of how she felt both before and after treatments was unsettling. I learned mental illness was often misdiagnosed with having “women’s hysteria” and I appreciated reading from a woman’s point of view of illness instead of the doctor’s clinical opinion.
The book The Bell Jar is short, my copy is just over 200 pages, but it is full of emotions and trauma from cover to cover. It has made me think a lot about depression and what it was like to be a woman at a time when the world was considered the man’s. This is not a breeze through, light hearted, quick read. It is a contemplative story that I sat up all night reading and then spent about three days rereading and thinking about. It is quite unsettling since this is semi-autobiographical. I kept connecting all Esther’s feelings to what Sylvia Plath might have been experiencing throughout her life. I am one of those people who believe that the greatest writers are those who have had difficult lives and Sylvia Plath is arguably one of best writers. This book is a provocative expression of pain and getting a view into some else’s tragedy makes one reflective of the silent illnesses other’s could be living through.
I would love to hear what you guys have to say about her book or any of her poetry. Also, if you have a book you’d like me to review, I’d love a suggestion.