The Bell Jar; Sylvia Plath
Harper Perennial Classics 25th Anniversary Ed
I first read and enjoyed The Bell Jar many years ago, so when it was selected for our February book club read, I was looking forward to revisiting this classic.
Esther Greenwood is the 19 year old protagonist, a brilliant, beautiful and talented young woman who suffers from mental illness. The story begins in 1953 with Esther and several other college students winning a writing contest and paid internship for a magazine (Ladies Day) in New York City. Her struggles with mental illness begin while in NYC but, her inner struggles began much earlier when her father dies when she was only nine. Esther's dream was to become a poet but, she was not encouraged to pursue her dream by her mother. Her boyfriend Buddy, a Yale medical student was not supportive of her dreams either. Instead her mother wants her to learn shorthand so that she'll have a job to support herself if she were ever to fall on hard times. [ her father left them financially strapped and the mother supports them with her own shorthand skills]
Esther's descent into the darker side intensifies by some bizarre behaviors while away in NYC. She's insecure, anxious and envious and, gradually she begins to cut herself off from the people around her. She tells the other girls she's with in NYC that she's engaged so that she can stay in and study or write and not have to be with people. When she learns that she was not accepted into a summer writing program she falls into a deep depression and experiences a sense of hopelessness. Obsessed with suicide she tries several different methods and even undergoes shock treatments as a last resort.
The story is painful to read at times and very realistic. Even though the ending seemed almost hopeful the truth is the author did commit suicide when she was only 30, the same year she wrote The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath had two young children; her husband left her in 1962 for another woman, the year before she died.
I think I enjoyed this classic even more the second time around. Have you read this? If not, try it, it's so well done.