The Bell Jar is a classic that explores the stigma of mental illness, sexism and the destructive mental health system of the 1950s. The Bell Jar concerns a young, successful woman’s eventual breakdown and suicide attempt, it tells a story of recovery, redemption, struggle, and angst. It explores the high social expectations and toxic culture of 1950s America – a culture that encages women so badly that leads them to no other choice but self-destruction.
The story follows Esther Greenwood symbolically test out a series of possible personas through the women she meets; none of which fit her. The two which Esther identifies with most is Doreen a sultry, thrilling character and Betsy a wholesome, cheerful girl-next-door.
The pressures of individualism and innocence split her apart, and we see this from New York to her home in the suburbs to multiple asylums. All throughout these locations we see men bring Esther down, to name a few there is Doctor Gordon, Buddy, and Irwin. All which leave a negative, long-lasting effect on young Esther.
Falling into a hole of depression, Esther is sent to a dreadfully insensitive psychiatrist so that he could show her how to be herself again but how could she be herself in a society that pressurizes you into being perfect? Something which none of us are or could ever be. He prescribes electroshock treatment, her mood does not improve and she nearly succeeds in committing suicide. As a result, she is transferred to a number of facilities, where she again undergoes electroshock treatment, but this time her condition starts to improve.
In short, Esther is a complex & powerful character who doesn’t fit into simple labels such as mental patient, victim, or feminist. The Bell Jar is as vital now as it was when it was written due to the energy of the writing. Plath’s intelligence and humor doesn’t fail to shine through. Even when she is describing her lowest and rawest moments, her wry tone makes her an appealing & gripping narrator. Plath’s poetry is descriptive, morbid, honest, and heart-wrenching and so is The Bell Jar. The novel offers no secrets or hidden corners from Esther’s mind, no place for the reader to convince themselves everything will be fine. Plath’s own experiences with depression is what makes this book a unique read.The entire plot is based on Plath’s & Esther’s mind in one; the fears and bitterness that haunt her, her worries and nightmares, the depression that slowly unravels her sanity. The purpose of The Bell Jar is to be a window into the forgotten parts of the human experience and into the mind of Sylvia Plath.
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