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The Bell Jar

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  434,148 Ratings  ·  15,495 Reviews
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 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 ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 216 pages
Published 1980 by Bantam (first published January 14th 1963)
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Jessica Cervantes This book is a sort of autobiography for Sylvia Plath. She writes a story about her experiences in college and her early battles with depression and…moreThis book is a sort of autobiography for Sylvia Plath. She writes a story about her experiences in college and her early battles with depression and suicide. I don't think she actually goes insane, but she does become severely depressed.

I have experienced clinical depression before and this is a good representation of it. When depressed, you can't find the energy or will to do the most simple things like take a shower. Focusing on tasks such as reading or watching TV become impossible because you just don't seem to have the ability to keep your mind on them for long enough. Morbid or dark thoughts are on repeat in your brain and you just don't care enough to form any attachments or relationships with people. It seems her depression started with the death of her father at age 9 (she states she hasn't been truly happy since) and slowly progressed until her return home from New York where she has a full on mental break down. This is the part that would seem fast, but that is how break down's are. They come on suddenly and are quite debilitating. If you can relate to depression then it is easier to see the signs and symptoms in her earlier experiences in the story.

The bell jar is a metaphor for her depression. It covers her, keeps her isolated from the world and distorts her view of life. She also says "stewing in my own sour air" under the jar meaning she is trapped in her depressive thoughts.

It was interesting to see the difference in treatment methods used then and now. Overall, I enjoyed it.

Hope this shed's some light on her mental state. (less)
Johanna For me Joan represented the sturdy functioning type of person who you imagine sails through life without a hitch. When she appeared to have mental…moreFor me Joan represented the sturdy functioning type of person who you imagine sails through life without a hitch. When she appeared to have mental health issues it almost seemed like she was dabbling in it, a bit of a project to see how life in a clinic may be. It's a big lesson in never knowing the turmoil that goes on inside even the strongest seeming person's head.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Sammy
May 29, 2007 Sammy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: a-the-best
There are many who have read The Bell Jar and absolutely loved it. I am gladly considering myself one of them. I was a little caught of guard when I read a few reviews of The Bell Jar comparing it to The Catcher in the Rye stating how it's the female version of it. I liked Catcher but I know there are many people who didn't and upon hearing that may be similar to Catcher not have the desire to read it. I assure you, The Bell Jar is a book all on it's own and should not be compared to any other b ...more
Madeleine
I feel like I owe Sylvia Plath an apology. This is a book I actively avoided for years because so many people (namely female classmates who wanted to be perceived as painfully different or terminally misunderstood or on the verge of absolutely losing their teenage shit) lauded the virtues of this book and how it, like, so totally spoke to them in places they didn't even know they had ears. My own overly judgmental high-school self could not accept even the remote possibility of actual merit lurk ...more
karen
there once was a girl from the bay state
who tried to read finnegan's wake.
it made her so ill,
she took loads of pills.
james joyce has that knack to frustrate.
Scarlet
There is this scene in Chapter 10 of The Bell Jar where Esther Greenwood decides to write a novel.

"My heroine would be myself, only in disguise. She would be called Elaine. Elaine. I counted the letters on my fingers. There were six letters in Esther, too. It seemed a lucky thing."


I cannot help wondering, is that what Sylvia Plath thought when she wrote The Bell Jar? Did she, like Esther, sit on a breezeway in an old nightgown waiting for something to happen? Is that why she chose the name Est
...more
Garima

Everything she said was like a secret voice speaking straight out of my own bones.

A light at the end of a tunnel? May be! A flicker of hope? Perhaps. A cloud with a silver lining? Possibly. Eventually it’s the doubt that remains a constant companion while one is busy gathering shreds of a life which apparently turns into something unexpected, something frail, something blurred, something sour, something like sitting under a Bell Jar. There are no promises to keep and no expectations to be fulfi
...more
Randy
Aug 04, 2007 Randy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
It's weird how dated books often get remembered for completely different reasons than the author could've possibly intended. I doubt Sylvia Plath thought to herself, "This semi-autobiographical novel will be a poignant look into my adolescence once I attain a cult following for sticking my head in an oven." Or, "I hope my book becomes regarded as a seminal work of postwar ennui and oppressive gender roles."

In The Savage God, A. Alvarez says Sylvia spoke of The Bell Jar "with some embarrassment
...more
Taylor
May 10, 2008 Taylor rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I've never shied away from depressing material, but there's a difference between the tone serving the story, and a relentlessly depressing work that goes entirely nowhere. I know it can be viewed as a glimpse into Plath's mind, but I would rather do a lot of things, some quite painful, than read this again. It hurt to get through it, and I think it's self-indulgent and serves no real artistic purpose. Which is truly a shame, as I love a lot of Plath's poetry.
Florencia
Feb 01, 2017 Florencia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Florencia by: Waqas' review
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
— Franz Kafka; January 27, 1904

I saw my life branching out before me like th
...more
J.L.   Sutton
Jan 16, 2017 J.L. Sutton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s been a number of years since I last read Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar. What I’d remembered most was how well Plath had established the mood for this story by weaving the electrocutions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg with the mental breakdown of her heroine, Esther Greenwood. But the story is definitely about Esther, her ambition, and her own feelings of inadequacy, even though (viewed from the outside) Esther would be seen as a success. What is amazing about this writing is its immersive quality; ...more
Jen
Jan 25, 2014 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
This is a disturbingly frightening journey through the mind of a young girl suffering from depression in the 1950's. How far we have come in the last few decades in recognizing depression as a mental illness and treating it with much less radical techniques than electric shock.
Ester Greenwood is 19 and her future is just starting to unfold. Yet, day by day, she is questioning herself: her capabilities, her confidence, who she is, and what does it mean. Her thoughts turn dark and helplessness en
...more
Aubrey
Man has no foothold that is not also a bargain. So be it!

-Djuna Barnes, Nightwood
I’ve been side-eyeing this book for a very long time, much as I warily circle any piece of work whose chosen topics happen to lie close to deeply personal experiences of mine. It’s difficult to tell what I fear more from these bundles of paper and ink. The chance of severe disappointment? The possibility of debilitating resonance? Either one would weigh much too heavily on my sensibilities and result in time lost
...more
Huda Yahya


وكانت فكرة أن أقتل نفسي قد رسخت في عقلي بهدوء مثل شجرة أو زهرة
ـــــــــــــــــ


في عام 1963 كانت سيلفيا بلاث قد حسمت أمرها
أطلت على طفليها اللذين لا يبلغ عمر أكبرهما العامين بعد
أطعمتهما وتركت مزيدا من الطعام واللبن
فتحت النوافذ عن آخرها
ثم تهادت بخفة إلى المطبخ
وسدت كل منافذ الهواء
وفتحت صمامات الغاز
وأرقدت رأسها المعذّب المختنق بناقوسه الزجاجي في الفرن
وتركت نفسها تتسرب ببطء إلى العالم الآخر

;;;;;;;;;;;

من الصعب أن تقرأ كتابا لكاتب انتحر دون أن تبحث به
عن كل الاشارات التي قد تدل على أنه سيفعلها قر
...more
Samadrita
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.

These chilling lines from 'Daddy' played inside my head time and again like the grim echoes of a death knell as I witnessed Esther's struggle to ward off the darkness threatening to converge on her. And despite my best efforts to desist from searching for the vestiges of Sylvia in Esther, I failed. I could not help noting how effortl
...more
Lizzy
“The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”
The Bell Jar is honest, disturbing, powerful, and poignant. It opens with "the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs," as if it were an omen of what is to come. Conspicuous and beautiful, it tells a story of despair as a young woman falls to the pitfalls of depression.
“The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it.”
Sylvia Plath's death haunts every page as depair vanqu
...more
B0nnie
Mar 19, 2012 B0nnie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Bell Jar is a first person narrative about one woman's total alienation - from the self, from society, from the world - with the cold war as a backdrop (the references to the the Rosenbergs, the UN, Russians). She is a sort of female 'underground man' of the new age.

The story is told simply, though complex in structure and themes. Sylvia Plath writes with a clear direct style that is ironic, funny, and poetic.

Esther, a young woman of the 1950s, is in New York for a brief, glamourous job
...more
Annie
Sep 05, 2014 Annie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I remember reading this short story in Asimov’s magazine about a very young girl who suffers from autism. She moves at her own pace, dragging herself at the heels of the rushing time and existing in that void where her consciousness treads a gravelly path only to arrive at the destination to find that everyone else had already moved on. So that when she answers her mother to a question that was asked of her three weeks ago, her mother doesn’t really understand her because she had already moved o

...more
Matthias
Sep 26, 2016 Matthias rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-reviews
I'm really struggling with writing a review for this one, given the unique nature of the book and the sad reality that surrounds it. Every book is a testament of its author in one way or another, but with this semi-fictional autobiography it's difficult not to equate the book with its tragic author, making the reviewing of it an exercise in the kind of delicacy I'm not very well versed in. A delicacy that, frankly, I don't really enjoy employing.

So what is one to do when he didn't really like "
...more
Nicole~
"I saw my life branching out before me like a green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch,like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor.."(TBJ)

Esther Greenwood's story is told in flashbacks, shifting in time as rhythmically as the rise and fall of her moods, as she narrates her young adult exper
...more
PattyMacDotComma
5★
If you are inclined to bouts of depression, find another book. If you've lived with or are fond of someone followed by the Black Dog, this describes the intensity of the feelings (and the treatment) well.

Countless critics and reviewers have written about this sad 'memoir' (written as fiction and first published under a pseudonym) about depression, but it is also full of funny anecdotes and perfect insight into American East Coast college girls in the 1950s.

Knowing that it’s autobiographical ma
...more
Tracy Elizabeth
Apr 17, 2008 Tracy Elizabeth rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: my ex
I only had to read it once. I never read it for or with pleasure. I prefer childbirth.
Manny
Nov 28, 2008 Manny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Warning: this review contains major spoilers for the movie Melancholia

The paradox at the heart of The Bell Jar is that Esther, the narrator, comes across as an engaging and indeed admirable person. She's smart, funny, perceptive and seems to have everything going for her. But she feels less and less connected with life, and in the end just wants to kill herself. Evidently, there must be something wrong with her. Perhaps she would have been okay if only she'd been prescribed the appropriate kind
...more
Carol
Don't be scared.......yeah right.

Esther Greenwood's story actually begins a bit comical describing the details of a free trip to New York City with a group of college girls. While recounting the activities of her strange new friends and blind date disasters, one in particular pertaining to a turkey neck and gizzards gave me a laugh-out-loud moment I will not forget although there's not much else in this terribly depressing novel to bring joy to the reader.

This semi-autobiographical novel was fir

...more
Maxwell
Feb 03, 2016 Maxwell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unlike a lot of people, I wasn't required to read The Bell Jar in school. It's one of the most influential and recognizable novels of modern American literature, and so I figured it was about time I read it. And I loved it.

Now, I might be a bit in love with it mostly because I listened to the audiobook narrated by the fantastic Maggie Gyllenhaal. (Seriously, her voice is perfect for Esther's dark & alluring narrative). Regardless of Gyllenhaal's narrative prowess, I thought the story was eng
...more
Agnieszka
Jun 22, 2009 Agnieszka rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, reviewed, 2015

When we are young we used to think that we are unbreakable, more, that we are immortal. That whatever we touch it’ll turn into gold, that we can change the world. And then … life just happens to us.

They say about this book as a feminist manifesto. I understand why but completely do not care about this tag. The only thing I'm interested in is Esther and her desperate fight for remaining on surface, her attempt to get out of bell jar. I can easily see her when dressed up with her best clothes att
...more
KOHEY.Y.
Dec 12, 2015 KOHEY.Y. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: home-library
Sometimes it is hard for me to judge what books are good or bad,when I have to rate them,so this time I let my gut feeling do this.
This is a great growing up story with many beautiful yet heart-wrenching scenes hard for me to describe.
Esther,the main charcter,makes me laugh,feel happy,sad and think about what “to grow up and face the world”really means.Her attitude is biased by what she sees through her eyes and she lives for the day as if her life would depend on every moment of it,which affect
...more
Mike Puma
Dec 27, 2014 Mike Puma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015

What to say? What to say? This one leaves me at a loss.

The Bell Jar is an important title. It’s taught in schools, high schools and secondary schools. I imagine it’s included in comprehensive Women’s Studies programs where there’s an emphasis on the Humanities. The title matters.

But Why, exactly? At least, that’s what I kept wondering. What is its place in the Literary World? Is there something about the title which merits its consideration alongside the women writers we’ve come to expect on lis

...more
Madeline
"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. I'm stupid about executions. The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that's all there was to read about in the papers - goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway. It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn't help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves.
I
...more
Joe Valdez
Dec 22, 2014 Joe Valdez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-general
I feel the way about The Bell Jar that other readers feel about Catcher in the Rye. Rather than J.D. Salinger's anti-hero Holden Caulfield labeling everything in sight as "phony", my preference is Sylvia Plath's thinly veiled account of her summer in New York, interning as a guest editor at Mademoiselle and her descent into depression and the mental health system that fall, with Plath's vivacious wit plunging me into the almost sheer terror of looming adulthood.

Published in England in January 1
...more
Perry
Feb 02, 2016 Perry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: libri-classici
Song of Chaos and Eternal Night
"To the person in the bell jar, ... the world itself is a bad dream." S. Plath, The Bell Jar



"I'm only faking when I get it right
Cause I fell on Black Days.
How would I know
That this could be my fate"
Soundgarden, "Fell on Black Days," 1995


One cannot read this novel without reading into it Sylvia Plath's tragic life. She based the novel loosely on a year or so of her life in college and as a summer intern at a NYC publishing house. In the novel, Esther Greenwood, wh
...more
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4379
Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer.

Known primarily for her poetry, Plath also wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The book's protagonist, Esther Greenwood, is a bright, ambitious student at Smith College who begins to experience a mental breakdown while interning for a fashion magazine in New York. The plot paralle
...more
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