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The Bell Jar

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  381,341 Ratings  ·  12,245 Reviews
Originally published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in 1963 -- only a month before the author's suicide -- Sylvia Plath's harrowing autobiographical novel traces a young woman's descent into an emotional breakdown. This brilliant and disturbing story of Esther Greenwood's journey from the glamorous world of magazine publishing in New York to the isolating world of the ...more
Hardcover, 216 pages
Published November 1st 1995 by Lightyear Press (first published 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)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Sammy
Jun 12, 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.
Randy
Mar 16, 2008 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
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
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
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
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
Taylor
Jul 05, 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.
Annie
Nov 21, 2015 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
Mike Puma
Jan 21, 2015 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
Agnieszka
Jan 04, 2015 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 c
...more
Basuhi
Feb 15, 2014 Basuhi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memorable-reads
Sometimes, once in a long while, a book comes around, with words so cogitative that they bounce off the pages and hit me with pangs of echoing familiarity and intriguing strangeness.
And that, The Bell Jar does. Numerous times. And it's scary that I'm relating to a potential depression victim. ( Maybe, relating is a strong word, I could understand her might be more fitting. At least, That's what I'm telling myself. )

“I wanted to crawl in between those black lines of print, the way you crawl thr
...more
KOHEY.Y.
Dec 22, 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
mai ahmd

أكثر الكتب التي أحب الكتابة عنها هي تلك الكتب التي تؤثر بي بشكل خاص .. لم أعرف سيلفيا بلاث إلا منذ سنوات قليلة من كتاب جمانة حداد عن الشعراء الذين قضوا نحبهم بالإنتحار .. شاعرية بلاث وإرتباطها بهيوز وطريقة موتها بوضع رأسها في فرن الغاز عوامل ساهمت في شهرتها وتأتي هذه الرواية التي تحكي قصتها لتؤكد إبداع سيلفيا إلى جانب جنونها ..

استير فتاة متدربة في إحدى مجلات الموضة متفوقة تبدو كأن المستقبل يفتح أذرعه بإتجاهها تحضر حفلات ، تشارك في الحياة ، لكنها فجأة تبدأ بالقيام بتصرفات غريبة دون سبب واضح تنحدر
...more
Matt
Dec 29, 2008 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On February 11, 1963, Sylvia Plath turned on the gas and stuck her head in an oven. This information is oddly missing from the back cover of The Bell Jar, which gives only her date of death, as though she'd gone quietly at the end of a long, untroubled life. I found this omission glaring, because Plath's death haunts every page of this beautifully written semi-autobiographical story of a woman going insane. Indeed, there were times I felt her sitting on my shoulder as a ghostly angel.

The Bell J
...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
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
Manny
Aug 19, 2011 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
Beth
May 10, 2015 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know.

I can enjoy the bleakest of books. Living Dead Girl, for example, is one of the most brutal, unforgiving books I've ever read, and yet I still managed to find a kind of small, sick enjoyment - presumably in flipping the pages in a frenzy, panicking, never knowing what was going to happen next and not being sure if I wanted to know. I am using Living Dead Girl as an example because it's truly one of those helpless books, where a happy ending is just not possible.

The Bell Jar is like
...more
Tracy Elizabeth
Apr 18, 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.
Desislava
Sep 21, 2015 Desislava rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
The Bell Jar left me very uneasy. I feel like going to sleep for a month, yet I am completely amazed. I didn't realize how much of it was based on Sylvia Plath own life until after reading up on her afterwards. I think that’s why I liked it so much; it was just so real. I found myself relating to so much of it - not so much the psychotic problems Esther dealt with, but definitely the whole feeling down and “trapped under a bell jar” thing.

While dated, the transition into young-adult life is mode
...more
Melissa
Sep 10, 2008 Melissa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
Okay, I know this is a classic, well-written, etc. My rating is not based on the writing, but solely on how much I enjoyed reading the book…and I didn’t enjoy it at all. From the very beginning, even before her breakdown, I found very little to care for or associate with about Esther. She seemed cynical, disdainful, self-important, and manipulative. I just flat out didn’t like her. So when she really began to have some trouble mentally (actually, even before that) I, as a reader, wanted to close ...more
Greg Carmichael
Oct 11, 2007 Greg Carmichael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Going into The Bell Jar I expected immediate immersion into a world of gloom followed by the incessant whining that often accompanies that world. Those of you who have read Prozac Nation know exactly what I mean. What else should I have expected from a woman who committed suicide by putting her head in an oven?

Perhaps that is why I put it off reading this classic for so long. Yet to my pleasant surprise, the novel opens on a high note describing a young Esther Greenwood in the midst of a summer
...more
Gary
Jun 09, 2007 Gary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a poem by Sylvia Plath included after the book

Mad Girl's Love Song
A villanelle

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Ex
...more
Traveller
In case anybody wonders why no stars: Firstly, it is extremely hard to assign "stars" to a work of fiction this idolized and a heroine this iconicized.

I have always thought that reviews tell you a LOT more than 'stars' do, because in a simplistic system like that of Goodreads, who knows what the person assigned the stars for.

I have various reasons to reject this text on a personal level, but also various reasons to commend it on a public level.

The good thing that this novel did, was to highligh
...more
K.D. Absolutely
Sep 21, 2012 K.D. Absolutely rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
This book did not grip me the way I expected it would. Had I read this when I was younger or when I have not yet read other descent-to-madness books, I would have appreciated it more. Topping the list for me in this kind of sub-genre is Elias Canetti's Auto-da-Fé (4 stars) with a male protagonist or Jean Rhys' Good Morning, Midnight (3 stars) with a female protagonist. I am not an expert on literature because I am a mere reader but I think The Bell Jar is inferior in imparting the exact mood tha ...more
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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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