Tag Archives: sylvia plath

Twenty two becomes nineteen and I muse on The Bell Jar

Well, three more books have bitten the dust and my tally for the year has risen to a hefty six. Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, was insightful and fun but, ultimately, not very substantial. The Hunger Games was a nice page-turner but it left many loose ends waiting to be resolved. I guess I’ll have to get around to reading the sequels someday but they’re certainly not at the top of my to-read list.

By far the best of the three books I’ve recently read was the late poet, Sylvia Plath’s only work of prose, The Bell Jar which is in the form of a novel. It is said to be semi-autobiographical which makes it an unsettling read as Plath committed suicide no more than a month after the book’s publication. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating look at clinical depression.

Nineteen year old, Esther Greenwood is an aspiring poet who recieves an internship working for a women’s magazine in New York. Her time at the magazine introduces her to many women of her age. These women are unlike Esther in that they seem to have a pre-determined path laid out before them that they are content with. By the end of her tenure working for the magazine, Esther gains a new, disheartening perspective on everyday life and once she returns to her home in Massachusetts, her lack of a future career path brings on feelings of inadequacy and a deep depression begins to consume her.

Sylvia Plath at work

I was expecting The Bell Jar to be well written as Sylvia Plath was a very highly acclaimed poet but some of the figurative language in this book really exceeded my expectations. The metaphor at the heart of the book slowly reveals itself over the course of the story and it is so simple yet so profound. I suppose that when I began reading this book, I thought that the dark subject matter would make it a slow and drawn out experience. On the contrary, The Bell Jar proved to me that a book about depression can still immerse you in it’s world no matter how far removed from the subject matter you are. Esther’s life at various asylums is one of deceptive banality; with dull routine threatening to give way to a bout of shock treatment any day. I think that it’s this mysterious quality that compelled me to read this book so voraciously.

Sylvia Plath commited suicide by way of carbon-monoxide poisoning in February, 1963. She left two children motherless and a husband a widower. The Bell Jar was a final cry from her soul. It is harrowing and somewhat prophetic but even if Plath had lived to this day and conquered her depression, this book would be no less important. If you have ever known anyone who has suffered from depression at any point in time, then The Bell Jar will give you an idea of how it felt to be in the skin of that person in their darkest hour.

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