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The Bell Jar

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  626,494 ratings  ·  25,237 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 masterfully 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 th ...more
Audible Audio, 7 pages
Published February 2nd 2016 by HarperAudio (first published January 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 s…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 hea…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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Average rating 4.02  · 
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 ·  626,494 ratings  ·  25,237 reviews


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Sammy
May 29, 2007 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
Ariel
Jun 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
“I saw my life branching out before me like the 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 fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer na ...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 E
...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.

come to my blog!
...more
Taylor
May 10, 2008 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. ...more
Karen
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My dad went mad in the early seventies when my mom filed for divorce and took up with another man after 12 yrs of marriage. He ended up in a place called Glenn Eden here in Michigan and went through a dozen or more electric shock treatments, I remember visiting him through a window from outside the place. He eventually recovered and remarried, led a normal life, but this book was kind of frightening to me, remembering that time, the atmosphere of such a place, and the stigma of mental illness.
I
...more
J.L.   Sutton
Jan 16, 2017 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
Florencia
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
Matthew
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar


4.5 to 5 stars

This was a very powerful and only partially fictional tale from Sylvia Plath. Perhaps the genre should be called autobiographical fiction (is that already a thing?). Because of this, I was very glad that the book included a short biography of Plath at the end to compare her life experiences an
...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
Michael
Aug 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recs, 2014
Based on Plath's own experience of breakdown in college, The Bell Jar charts the deterioration of protagonist Esther Greenwood's mental stability while interning for a fast-paced fashion magazine one summer in New York City. The first-person retrospective narration juxtaposes ironic detachment and impassioned lyricism: Esther swings from cooly assessing the insurmountable adversity she faces as a woman living in a sexist society to recounting the fits of existential despair she suffered the year ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
(433 From 1001 Books) - Victoria Lucas = The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar is the only novel written by the American writer and poet Sylvia Plath.

Originally published under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas" in 1963, the novel is semi-autobiographical, with the names of places and people changed.

The book is often regarded as a roman a clef since the protagonist's descent into mental illness parallels Plath's own experiences with what may have been clinical depression or bipolar II disorder. P
...more
Matt
Dec 27, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic-novels
“Doctor Gordon was unlocking the closet. He dragged out a table on wheels with a machine on it and rolled it behind the head of the bed. The nurse started swabbing my temples with a smelly grease.

As she leaned over to reach the side of my head nearest the wall, her fat breast muffled my face like a cloud or a pillow. A vague, medicinal stench emanated from her flesh.

‘Don’t worry,’ the nurse grinned down at me. ‘Their first time everybody’s scared to death.’

I tried to smile but my skin had gone
...more
Tracy Elizabeth
Apr 17, 2008 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.
Jen
Jan 25, 2014 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 lo
...more
Jaidee
3.5 "descriptive rather than insightful" stars !!!

I told my GR friend Ann that I meant to read this since age 16. All the girls I had crushes on at the time were reading this book with their pencil skirts and Smiths Tshirts. I read some Plath poetry that I enjoyed but never got to this novel.

I spent a good deal of time reflecting on Esther...the heroine in this modern classic. She is a fascinating study in female narcissism that mistakes herself for being misunderstood, special and superior to
...more
ALet
Mar 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
★★★★★/5
This wan an interesting, fast read. It was interesting to deep dive into women's mind and world. I do not know a lot about Sylvia Plath, but now I really want to read her other works and maybe a life story.
...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 effor
...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 v
...more
Felicia
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air."

The Bell Jar has been on my tbr since before the term tbr even existed. That being said, I'm so thankful that I didn't read it sooner, that I read it now, at this exact particular time in my life. My younger self would not have had the life experience to understand this story on such a profound level.

Plath's writing is beyond reproach. I foun
...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
Matthias
Sep 26, 2016 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
GTF
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have always appreciated Sylvia Plath's writing, and I really liked this novel too.

The protagonist Esther Greenwood is largely based on Sylvia Plath herself. She is a young, aspiring writer who has been given a guest internship at a fashion magazine, and hopes to make it as a poet some day. Unfortunately, Esther is struggling to fight off a psychological darkness that eventually leads to a nervous breakdown. The breakdown that Esther Greenwood experiences in the novel is a portrayal of the bre
...more
Manny
Nov 28, 2008 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
Mary Beth
DNF at 50%. Just not my cuppa tea!
Found it to be slow and boring. I read a lot of reviews saying they loved the first half more than the second half, so since I disliked the first half, I decided to DNF it.
I am not going to write a full review since I didn't finish it and I am not going to rate a book I did not finish.
...more
Maxwell
Feb 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, owned, audiobook
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 engagin
...more
Annie
Sep 05, 2014 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
Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1950s
”I tried to smile, but my skin had gone stiff, like parchment.

Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world. Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee, it shrilled, through an air crackling with blue light, and with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant.

I wondered what terrible thing it was that I had done.”


This reminds me of this guy that used to go around the country talking about that moment in time wh
...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 parall ...more

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