Book Review: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Note: This review is part of the 2016 Summer Reading Diversity Spotlight.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Release Date: June 11, 2013 (Originally Published January 14, 1963)
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Genre: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 978-0061148514
Source: Bought
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The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

I can’t remember the last time I read an autobiographical novel. That said, this is without a doubt the absolute most disturbing autobiographical novel that I’ve ever read, especially knowing what becomes of Sylvia Plath in the end.

This story follows Esther who isn’t doing as well as she’d like to be doing in the big city (New York) and when she goes back home to Boston, her depression, her mental illness rises to the surface like never before.

There were so much explored here, from loneliness and Esther’s mental illness and suicide, expectations and how paralyzing our family history can unconsciously make us, to sexism and the ever present double standard between men and women.

This book is just as positive (feminism, plenty of dark humor) as it is grim (being trapped in this body, in this life, with this mind) and that perfect balance and delivery will really strike a chord with the reader.

The Bell Jar gives brilliant insight into and such a frighteningly true perspective of how paralyzing instability can be. We follow a young woman as she is in the beginning stages of getting what she (thinks she) wants in life which, she realizes, doesn’t automatically mean she’ll be happy. In fact, it can and in this instance, does lead to her feeling emptier than ever before.

Because outwards success and climbing the ladder is nice but that doesn’t mean the person experiencing that climb isn’t at war with their own mind at every other waking hour. This is a perfect example of a person trying to understand, accept, and grow out of what she see when she looks in the mirror. It’s a wonderful exploration of the barriers that prevents us from truly connecting with other people and the things we try in an attempt to please others and society rather than ourselves. This book is so many things.

I related to Esther more than I’d like to share so I won’t but in reading this, I was blown away by how raw of an account this was, especially since it was published over 50 years ago when mental illness and feminism weren’t nearly as openly talked about or dissected. And in all that I connected to, I feel like I could take a class on this book and still walk away wanting to analyze this book long afterwards. It’s just that kind of book. It stays with you. It’s haunting and unforgettable. This book will stay with me forever so if that’s the kind of classic you’re looking for, you’ve found it here.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is available today.