The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - review
‘234 pages of pure brilliance’
orking in New York one summer, Esther Greenwood is a young, intelligent women on the edge of greatness. Though the ambition she once had to achieve her dreams (the ones which won her the awards, the prizes, the grades) have faded into a distant memory and she’s barely drifting along.
With the pressure of marriage and the passé New York night life, what will become of Esther Greenwood?
The classic, semi-autobiographical (though, the more you learn about the novel and author, the more autobiographical it seems to become) novel by Sylvia Plath is 234 pages of pure brilliance. It gives us a meaningful insight into the thoughts of Plath and the complete isolation one can feel when in a city (though there are so many people, as they all seem to pass the person by completely). The book also shows an interesting, sadly relatable, idea of ambition; how the character started from nothing, had to work her whole life up until getting a scholarship to a college and finds herself in New York and then completely loses all of her drive, ambition and passion. She can’t write or properly read any more (things she once loved) and this is fed by how easy everything is for her; her grades meet all the requirements but don’t fill the emptiness that resonates within her.
The novel also takes on the role of women in society (the expectations of them, ideas of what society tells us women should prioritise, such as marriage and children - all things the Esther seems to come to resent as the novel continues), along with a young woman’s exploration of her sexuality. Materialism is also a subject Plath addresses (the people around her, the gifts she receives) through the interesting idea of how the character Esther was so easily able to give it all up: the clothes, the lifestyle, and the money.
The Bell Jar is not just a classic piece of fiction (though so out of the box for its time), but also a novel that will continue to resonate with people throughout time as it talks of problems and classic faults with human nature that will always persist. I give it 4.5 out of 5 for being able to so clearly represent not only women in society but the truth of mental illness.