The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is my first book in the Classics Club Challenge book challenge to read 50 classics in 5 years. All the books I have chosen are books I have not previously read.


I am so pleased to have finally read this book. I feel as if it's been referenced a dozen times in books I've read in the past.  I've heard varied opinions about it, mostly being that it was depressing when actually I didn't find it depressing at all. I found it to be quite fascinating from beginning to end. Knowing that this was partially autobiographical made it that much more interesting for me.


Esther is an ordinary young lady and has shown some promise as a writer. Encouraged by her high school teachers she earns a scholarship to college. Esther continues to date her boyfriend Buddy, a medical student while she's attending college. She wavers back and forth whether she should marry Buddy or pursue a writing career but she never considers doing both. It's the early 1950's and "having it all" was not yet a popular catch phrase among women so it truly was a choice of either/or. Buddy reveals a secret and as a result Esther finds him to be a hypocrite so her decision is made that she won't marry him. During the summer she wins the position as a guest editor in a women's magazine and spends her summer in New York. She experiences food poisoning and an attempted rape before returning back home to her mother's house.


Once there she is informed she has not been accepted to the esteemed writing class she had applied for. She is crushed and at this point her descent begins in an obvious way. It is uncertain as to what exactly caused her lose her grasp on life. After several suicide attempts and electric shock treatments she is admitted to an insane asylum. Is there anything more eerie than old insane asylums? I'm oddly intrigued by these medical procedures of the past and what was then considered modern medicine as well as experimental treatment. Esther then moves to a private hospital at the expense of her scholarship sponsor, a famous novelist in her hometown.


While at the private hospital Esther begins to trust her new doctor and responds to the medication and better monitored shock treatments. Eventually she is well enough for day trips to town and becomes acclimated to the outside world again. Building confidence and learning to cope again she makes plans to return to college.


I would recommend this book to anyone with an introspective nature and readers of contemporary literature who wish to understand the frequent references to famed The Bell Jar.