“The Bell Jar”, analysis of the novel by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar is a novel first published in 1963. It was first released under a Pseudo author name of Victoria Lucas. In 1966 it was then published under the author’s real names; Sylvia Plath. The novel is a part biography depicting the life and times of a young woman who seemingly had a great life but suffered a mental breakdown but recovered later. The young woman was Esther Greenwood who hailed from Boston, Massachusetts. The main author of the book, committed suicide after the publication of the novel which took a similar turn as the main character in the novel.

The Idea

The Bell Jar details the aspirations of women in the 1950s which is a period where women were confined to very strict roles as per the society’s expectations. At the time, women were not allowed to have liberal views and their careers were conservative. Women who dared to change the status quo were frowned upon and discriminated against.

Esther Greenwood, the main character was a college student who had great dreams of becoming a poet. She had everything desirable to a young woman but her life is hopeless and sad. She had a great boyfriend, a great academic performance and a great job as an intern with a women’s magazine in New York. All these did not prevent her sorrow to the extent that she attempted to kill herself and was later checked into a mental hospital. The Bell Jar ends with her death after committing suicide.

Plot of Work

Esther believes that the community is against her dreams and aspirations. When she is selected for a summer internship as a guest editor of a women’s’ magazine she is overjoyed and happy that her life is taking a positive turn. She lives her home in Boston and travels to New York for the new experience.

In New York, she meets Doreen and Betsy. The two ladies she met had contrasting views on femininity different from her views. Doreen was rebellious while Betsy was conservative. The book is about the feminine struggle of most women in this age and time. At this time, she also thinks about the statements made by her boyfriend, Buddy Willard. Buddy admitted to her that he was not a virgin and had lost his virginity through seduction. At this point, Esther believes that her boyfriend is a hypocrite for having depicted her as more sexually experienced than he was.

After the summer, she had to return home because she was unsuccessful in joining a writing class. She was rejected. Her return home is the beginning of her sorrows. She had a bad relationship with her mother and her father had died when she was young. She tries to write a novel but fails and begins to have suicidal thoughts. She makes attempts at ending her life by swallowing sleeping pills but is rescued a few days later after a slumber.

After the suicide attempt, Esther is immediately put in a psychiatric ward in two different hospitals but this did not get her suicidal thoughts behind her. Fortunately, the woman who had helped through college helped her get out of the depression state she had been in. She starts getting better and eases concerns about premarital sex. Electric-shock therapy is performed on her and she gets much better and gets the feeling that she had been released from a bell jar.

Esther gets well and while still at the mental institution, she falls in love with a Havard professor who they have a sexual encounter with. The sexual encounter leads to profuse bleeding by Esther and she is assisted out of the ordeal by a fellow mental patient at the facility. The ordeal changes her life completely and all the gains she had made at the hospital are lost as she commits suicide a few days later.

Description of main characters

  • Esther Greenwood – She is the narrator of the works. The novel starts after she had completed her junior year in college. She grew up in Boston, Massachusetts with her mother and her brother as her father had died when she was young at about nine years old. Esther is ambitious and has dreams of becoming a poet but she is filled with uncertainty and feelings of hopelessness.
  • Mrs. Greenwood – She is Esther Greenwood’s mother. She is conservative and had a tough life due to the death of her husband when their children were young. She makes a living out of teaching typing. She has much love for Esther but cannot understand her and their relationship is strained.
  • Buddy Willard – He is Esther’s boyfriend and he comes to play when Esther is in New York. He is much-fancied because he is intelligent and handsome. He studied medicine at Yale University and therefore seemed to have a bright future ahead of him. He doesn’t fully grasp Esther’s interest in poetry and has traditional views about the roles of women in society. This creates a lot of conflict between him and Esther.
  • Doctor Nolan – She is Esther’s doctor at the mental hospital and She is kind. She understands Esther’s thinking and dreams despite their unusual nature.
  • Doreen – She meets Esther at the women’s magazine workplace In New York. She has rebellious views on the conventional societal norms and Esther is full of admiration for her. They share a lot about their social standings in the magazine’s editorial work as they are both guest editors. However, Esther is unable to fully embrace Doreen’s views and ways of life.
  • Betsy – She comes from Kansas and meets Esther at the women’s magazine in New York where she is also a guest editor. Esther is close to Betsy but cannot understand her optimism and a great view of the world.
  • Irwin – He is intelligent and a professor at Havard. He is Esther’s first lover and who is not caring or responsible. Esther and Irwin had a sexual encounter that led to her bleeding just before she committed suicide.
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