The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar – Book Review

~Reviewed by Manjima N.

Book: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath
Published On: 14 January, 1963
Genre: Autobiography, Psychological Fiction


I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

Esther, a beautiful 19-year-old, a straight-A student who is highly capable of a successful future, is working as an intern at a prominent magazine called Mademoiselle living the best life in New York which most could only dream of.

Sun shines brightly into Esther’s life and nothing could go wrong, except with certain ungovernable figments of the human mind and unpredictability of life thinly veiled in it, everything. Aforementioned excerpt from Sylvia Plath’s most admired piece of poetic monologue Lady Lazarus fittingly traces the essence of Esther Greenwood’s being in The Bell Jar

This novel published in 1963 is a peephole into Plath’s own life, published under the pseudonym, Victoria Lucas. As hard as her poetry hits us in the feels, The Bell Jar engulfs in blues all the more; triggering and haunting.

During the internship, she is seen to be going through sentimental chaos of adolescence that later attempts to swallow her whole. Even if it has been more than half a century since the birth of the Plath’s only novel, it pertained and withstood the test of time.

It delves into the issues put forth by social institutions such as marriage and education. Esther feels the pressure to fit into the society throughout. Plath provides a much progressive input regarding feminism that it still prevails, pointing out much hasn’t changed in 57 years. 

Esther was in a relationship with Buddy, who was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. It ends when she learns he was having an affair and was leading a double life. She despised the idea that required her to remain a virgin and “pure” till marriage when men wandered around doing exactly otherwise.

She also portrays anger towards the role of women in a marriage. According to Buddy, in a marriage, a man is an arrow into the future and woman is the place the arrow shoots off from. “I hate the idea of serving men in any way”. She decides not to ever get married because she “doesn’t want to be the place the arrow shoots from but wants to shoot them herself.”

Esther being a woman with a highly feminist outlook on society finds it outright difficult to cope in the misogynistic domain in the 60s. 

Plath explores the inner chaos of an overactive mind with the use of realism incorporating a dash of imagery that engages the reader throughout. Esther always had a concrete image of what she would be doing in the future but all of a sudden she didn’t.

While she was living the posh life, she expressed her inability to be content with any part of it which became the first sign of her gradual breakdown and identity crisis. Esther says she has never been purely happy since she was 9 years old when her father died.

Death of Plath’s father when she was 8 years old is considered the initial moments of her spiraling mental health. Esther visualizes the choices in her life analogous to a fig tree and choosing one means letting go of the others. Her dilemma makes it rather disoriented and the rotted figs fall off the tree. All these lines of actions derail her, even more, when she learns about getting rejected for a writing class.

Soon enough, the pressures and expectations of society begin to eat her up. She is unable to sleep or write which leads to harrowing circumstances insisting her to take her own life. Concealed inside a bell jar that goes on suffocating her and ripping her apart, Esther has to find her way out.

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

Quote by Sylvia Plath

Once again, the weight of making the right choices in life crushes a girl full of life and dreams.  


“Fiercely intelligent, penetrating and witty”, Plath once again succeeds in resonating different realms of depression and emotions that are often deemed inexpressible. She, furthermore, adds wicked black humor on the lofty high-class fashion parties and dates with boring men.

Having fought her mental wars, The Bell Jar could not be more perfect in giving insight into the life of Plath. It becomes even better when you disregard the autobiographical elements and invite it as an independent and self-enclosed narrative in a “death of the author” perspective.

Plath has harnessed the honesty and nuance of her pain in her works with lucidity and further embellished with the use of raw yet engrossing choice of words which altogether made it one of the classic American masterpieces.

As heartbreakingly candid as it was, treading along the novel experiencing a wide spectrum of emotions, Plath somehow leaves you to find a certain solace in yourself.

Anupam Kundu
A professional blogger and an IT freak. The atypical combo of a Civil Service aspirant and a Tech enthusiast.