SYLVIA Plath’s The Bell Jar has gone down in history as a novel that was light-years ahead of its time.
The only novel written by the troubled poet before her untimely death in 1963, The Bell Jar follows its young female heroine as she struggles with mental illness and many literary critics argue that it provides readers with insight into Sylvia’s own depressive episodes.
Everett Sylvia Plath is one of the 20th Century’s most famous female literary figures
What is the book’s meaning?
Although The Bell Jar is not an autobiographical work, there are many parallels between Sylvia and her heroine Esther Greenwood.
In the novel, Esther embarks on a summer internship at a best-selling women’s magazine in New York City just as Sylvia did at Mademoiselle magazine in 1953.
The harrowing work follows Esther as she plummets into depression while trying to forge her own identity at a time when women were expected to become mere housewives and mothers.
The book also mirrors Sylvia’s own experience with electroshock therapy which involved sending mental health patients into an electrically induced seizure to treat their symptoms.
Throughout the novel, Esther describes herself as being trapped and suffocated under the constraints of a bell jar.
This powerful imagery itself has often been interpreted as a metaphor for the all-encompassing nature of mental illness as well as society’s stifling social expectations of young women at that time.
What are The Bell Jar’s key quotes?
“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.” “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.” “The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.” “There is nothing like puking with somebody to makes you into old friends.” “Wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”
When did Sylvia Plath write it?
First published in January 1963, Sylvia Plath used the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas” due to the personal nature of the book which parallels her own mental health experiences.
The troubled author committed suicide at the age of 30, just one month after the book’s UK publication and leaving behind her two young children with ex-husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes.
Only with Ted Hughes and Sylvia’s mother’s permission was the book republished under her name in 1967 and did not make it to her home country of the United States until 1971.
The Bell Jar was largely inspired by Sylvia Plaths own struggles with depression