The Bell Jar was a bit of a head scratcher for me. It was not what I had expected based on its renown in the literary canon of feminism. I experienced it as a rather depressing novel about a young woman’s struggle with mental health, with only a slight undertone of feminism.
What was perhaps the most disturbing, yet realistic aspect of the story was that the protagonist, Esther Greenwood, despite crying out for help on countless occasions and exhibiting clear signs of depression was not taken seriously by her mother or doctors until it was nearly too late to save her. Eerily, this is something that sadly still happens to this day even when people show clear signs of mental distress.
What I enjoyed most about The Bell Jar, apart from this true-to-life unravelling of Esther’s mental health was the colorful, at times poetic prose that Plath used in her description of auxilliary characters and scenes in New York and Boston, in which the narrative unfolds.
However, there were a few aspects of the story which somewhat diminished my enthusiasm for The Bell Jar. I found the development of some of the male characters quite flat and one-dimensional, almost bordering on unbelievable. This may arguably be a reflection of Esther’s warped state of mind linked to her depression, which is further constrained by her naivete and limited life experience. Many of the unfortunate situations she finds herself in with various men, seem to arise at least partially due to her innocence and unsophistication, as opposed to the male patriarchy and sexism. Indeed, Esther’s interactions with some male characters (Marco and Prof. Irwin in particular) seemed unnatural and weakly credible. I found it perplexing that Esther, despite instinctually having misgivings about these male characters, recklessly overrode her gut instincts which ultimately led her to be exposed to harm. Another quibble that I have with The Bell Jar is Plath’s use of openly racist jargon when describing various characters and also Esther’s antagonistic interaction with a Black orderly when she was in hospital. Admittedly, this may reflect the pre-Civil Rights era in which The Bell Jar was written, when racial slurs were acceptable in mainstream American society.
In summary, I would recommend The Bell Jar to anyone who is open-minded and interested in expanding their literary horizons. My only word of caution is that this is not a light “happy go-lucky” read. So, I would suggest reading The Bell Jar when you are in a suitable mood.
Have you read The Bell Jar? or any of Sylvia Plath‘s other writings? What are your thoughts after reading her writing? What do you find most captivating about her literary style? Thanks as always for stopping by! Please feel free to share your thoughts or reactions in a comment below. Also, if you would like to receive more updates about my writing please consider joining my newsletter mailing list by subscribing below.