WARNINGS: Attempted Suicide, Suicide, Depression, and Attempted Rape.
"The more hopeless you were, the further away they hid you."
The Bell Jar is about our main character Esther Greenwood who wins a dream assignment in a New York fashion magazine but between that, her home life, and school she starts to get deeply depressed. Her mental state deteriorates and we follow her struggles and the way she deals with society and her mother's standards placed on her.
This book is a hard one to review because on one hand if I was reading and analyzing this book for class there's a chance I would have gotten more out of it. I tried to be analytical while reading because it's a loved classic especially when it comes to the themes of depression and mental health.
The message and the story were good, the last half being the stronger section of the book. The writing was well done but very straight forward. There wasn't a lot of descriptions or imagery to help the reader feel like they were in the story. For me it very much felt like I was being told everything instead of shown. Because of this, I felt distant from the characters and the story and it made it hard for me to genuinely be worried about the characters. The straightforward writing doesn't invite the reader into the story and because of that, anytime something important happened I didn't feel anything.
"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my eyes and all is born again."
That doesn't mean I didn't understand Esther's actions. I understood why she tried committing suicide. The Bell Jar is written really cleverly when it comes to building up Esther's character. The reader learns about Esther's mother, her friends, the pressure she's under, and it makes it easy to understand Esther's motives. From her mother's nonchalant "this is a phase" attitude about Esther's depression, to her doctor not listening to her at all and trying to prescribe a quick fix instead of figuring out the perfect treatment for her, to society's standards she felt she had to live up to, and etc. I sympathized for her.
Esther's ideas and thoughts seemed very strong and independent all the way through the story. She rejected the sexual standards put on women versus men. She also didn't like the idea of having to keep herself "pure" for a husband, which leads her to make dangerous decisions for herself. Although her ideas are very progressive when it came to standards put on woman, but she didn't have much self worth or care for her health. Once the reader starts seeing signs of her depression her actions become more dangerous. She likes the feeling of skiing because there is a possibility she could die and she finds some sort of freedom in that feeling. That possibility of death is what keeps her motivated to keep skiing over and over again. When she goes out with Marco and he bruises her, throws her drink, and even attempts to rape her she doesn't have enough self preservation to get away from him. She sees the signs and ignores them. It definitely shows Esther's lack of self worth and numbness to things happening to her.
Because this book is partly autobiographical of Plath's own depression and experience it all seems very real. I never thought this book sounded fake or unrealistic. I am not sure if because of that autobiographical part of the story is why it makes it so hard for the reader to connect with Esther, but I definitely think it hurt my overall opinions about The Bell Jar. However, I felt a bit of sadness at the end because it leaves on a hopeful note. Which is sad because Plath committed suicide only a month after the publication of The Bell Jar.
"I couldn't see the point of getting up. I had nothing to look forward to."
Overall, I do not regret reading this book. I have wanted to read it for a while and I am happy I finally was motivated to do it. This is the kind of book where star ratings don't feel right. Because 2.5 stars feels like a low rating, but I don't feel comfortable giving it a 3. I enjoyed the message behind the book and the symbolism but I didn't enjoy the book enough to give it anything higher than a 2.5. However, I do recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading it. I wouldn't mind reading some of Plath's poetry after reading this.
Thanks for reading!
Have you read The Bell Jar? Have you read any of Sylvia Plath's poetry? Do you recommend it?