Book · Book Review

Book Review: The Bell Jar



If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.

The Bell Jar is the only novel written and published by the American poet Sylvia Plath that served as her semi-autobiography as well. It evolves around the world of Esther Greenwood, a young, college woman in Boston whose mental illness is the central theme of this book.

The book starts with Esther and her internship in a glamorous magazine in New York where she parties and hang out with other women her age who have won the same internship. Towards the end of their internship and her comeback to her hometown in Massachusetts, she found out that she was not granted scholarship to a writing course she so desperately wanted. This brought about a depression on her that resulted to side effects such as inability to read, write & sleep for days.

As a result, her parents brought her to a psychiatrist who performed shock treatment which traumatized her and didn’t helped at all. It made things worse for Esther as she attempted suicide by taking sleeping pills. This failed attempt led her benefactress, Philomena Guinea in sending her to a private institution, funded by the older woman. In this institution, Esther eventually found her way to functioning mentally normal and slowly started being a part of the society. The novel ended with Esther preparing for her final interview at the Institution which will determine if she is ready to face the world outside.

Esther compares her mental condition to like being trapped in a Bell Jar. She refers to the Bell Jar as the world and society in general when she wrote “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.” In reference to the same subject, she once thought that she may have been healed now, but there is no assurance that this depression will permanently be gone. In this note, she is anticipating the possibility that it may come back (How did I know that someday—at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere—the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?). 

Esther may have triumphed over depression but it was unfortunate that Sylvia succumbed to it. This may have been what people call Sylvia Plath’s  “semi-autobiography” and I might say that she concluded it when she ended her life in February 1963.

I would give this book 3 out of 5 stars for its contents are helpful for people suffering from the same mental condition. It gives hope when it showed how one (Esther) can defeat all these monsters inside her and be taken back to the society as a normal, functioning human being. Personally, I’d recommend it to everybody I know for it gives us a glimpse of what depression looks like and how these people need our understanding and not our judgments.


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