02 August 2009

The Bell Jar

I clearly remember the first Sylvia Plath poem that I ever read: “Daddy.” After reading it, I was profoundly disturbed, extremely impressed, and absolutely hooked on Plath’s poetry. I promptly read every poem of hers that I could find. I loved her inimitable, conversational style, vivid imagery, sharp irony, and confessional subject matter.

Her first and only novel, The Bell Jar, is a fictionalized account of a nervous breakdown Plath suffered as a college student. The protagonist, Esther Greenwood, is a thinly disguised version of Plath. A brilliant student with literary aspirations, Esther becomes distraught and suicidal. Esther is eventually confined to an asylum and undergoes shock treatment, just as Plath did during her mental illness.

I really enjoyed this novel. Like Plath’s poetry, The Bell Jar is written in her distinct style – poetic, vivid, and conversational. The chronicle of Esther’s descent into madness is particularly fascinating. Rather than emphasizing how insane and out of touch with reality Esther is, Plath makes Esther’s actions seem almost reasonable – and all the more disturbing as a result. Esther is also a very sympathetic character. Although I disagreed with some of her decisions (especially concerning men) and have never suffered a nervous breakdown, Esther was still easy to relate to and likeable.

The Bell Jar is an amazing book, although the last half of this novel is quite disturbing. Many autobiographical novels, to put it lightly, are a disaster to read. Authors often use these novels to vent, and the result is not always readable. Plath’s novel is an exception. Her description of a sensitive young woman affected by mental illness and uncertainty about her future is a powerful story that you won’t want to put down.


  1. Interesting! I should check this one out, even though I'm not into slightly autobiographical dark novels.
    Hey, zella; you should get a Following gadget on your blog; it lets people get notified when a new page is up. Look for it in the gadgets, if you want to have it. I find it a lot easier to keep up with these kinda blogs. ;)

  2. Thanks for the suggestion! I'm technologically inept, so I'll take all of the help I can get.

    Yeah, The Bell Jar is kind of disturbing, but then again Sylvia Plath was kind of disturbing too.

    And thanks for keeping up with my blog! I think you're my first reader! :)