Monday, April 13, 2009

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: a brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. Step by step Sylvia Plath takes us with Esther through a painful month in New York as a contest-winning junior editor on a magazine, her increasingly strained relationships with her mother and the boy she dated in college and eventually, devastatingly, into the madness itself. The reader is drawn into her breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies.
Never before have I read a novel quite like this. The Bell Jar is a largely autobiographical work about Sylvia Plath’s own summer of 1953, when she worked as an editor at Mademoiselle magazine and suffered a breakdown. This book was the first of its kind to delve so deeply into the human psyche that it grew to become a harrowing American classic. I found Plath’s writing to be absolutely flawless, filled with gorgeous descriptions of everyday life through Esther’s eyes. Plath’s background as a poet served her well, with the prose flowing effortlessly across the page. The subtle, yet powerful references to the bell jar (which is a piece of laboratory glassware that can be connected to a pump that sucks out the air, creating a vacuum) helped create the image of sanity slowly draining out of Esther’s life. Plath brings together many complex subjects such as social pressures, coming of age, sexuality, and the mentally ill without losing an essence of humanity. The reader isn’t just reading about a woman’s breakdown, but experiencing it as you would watching a bug try and escape from a steep bowl. The character of Esther Greenwood is so well-developed that the reader can easily identify and sympathize with her. I believe that at some point or another, everyone goes through something similar to what happened to Esther/Sylvia in varying degrees. The Bell Jar is a very approachable novel, with its eloquent writing style, short length, and intriguing storyline. This novel and its author deserve the highest praise in regards to a work whose storyline will stand the test of times.


Alley said...

Thanks for the review!

robin_titan said...

I think it's pretty crazy that she killed herself and that another of her ex husbands wife did too, or was it two more of his wives? Either way...prrretty odd and extremely sad :(

Gaabriel said...

Well put. You did a good job of summarizing the book into a review that won't ruin the experience of reading it.

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