Maddie
Maddie asked:

I find Esther's descent into insanity a little rushed or hasty, but I have never experienced mental trauma like hers. Is it relatable to anyone else? Has anyone gone through what Esther is experiencing and could shed some light on this?

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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 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.
Beth Reading this book was an epiphany for me. I related so strongly to what was being described. The jar, the fig tree, the numbness of feeling like the eye of the tornado of life, it all struck home and really helped me come to terms with parts of my inner life that I had always been terrified by and had kept hidden.

Like a few of my fellow posters, I believe that Esther's depression was pre-existent. Her struggles were heightened by the stifling circumstances of her life, but also seemed to become worse on occasion with no outside prompting (the bell jar descending). I can't speak for all people with depression (depression and snowflakes- all different), but mine comes this way as well. It is almost more cruel when there has been no precipitating event to blame or to use to explain your condition to others. The "jar" descends, and you are there, watching life but not experiencing it, wallowing in the stale air that you create.
Carole I don't think that the book is made to be a detail of life before, during and after. When I read Bell Jar I feel she's describing those Bell Jars she refers to as little snow globes that are a cute representation of a scenic life, but are really empty. The kind that make you think "What is the point of living in this if we are all going to die without really accomplishing anything?"

I'm obviously not Sylvia, but when I read the book it felt like she sat down and just started writing down memories in a sequential order. The meanings of those memories as an over-arching theme is (I guess) up to you to decide.

I wouldn't call her 'insane', just clinically depressed. She is always aware of everything that is going on.
Joshua She says several things throughout the book that suggest this was something building up overtime. It's actually very gradual but you have to look for it. In the beginning of the book, she's already feeling hopeless and her view on things is bleak. She feels out of place and doesn't enjoy the party lifestyle: "I was supposed to be having the time of my life".
Karl It is not rushed. It is relatable. Esther's condition does not arise from nowhere and is clearly present from the beginning of the novel, though she appears to be coping, if only superficially. The physical and emotional traumas she experiences then exacerbate her chronic depression. The severity of her illness escalates quickly, but realistically.
Alyssa A lot of times depression lasts for years and years. It's impossible to fit all of it into a novel, and so my guess is that Plath was taking the most memorable or important parts of her life with depression and putting them together in this story.
Ayesha Fayyaz Yes i have gone through this and i go through frequently. And sometimes i m very normal but sometimes i just lay, paralyzed wishing the earth to swallow me whole. I really want sometimes to be left frozen on earth because i know if someone started talking to me i would shed into tears. This terrifying dark thing eats me from inside.
Jillian Allen I am going through the recovery process of a mental breakdown because of clinical depression and anxiety, and I can tell you it is very much like this.

The smallest, most seemingly-unimportant thing can push you right over the edge because you are always so close to the edge. You feel so empty that it's like a hollowness residing in your chest; you don't know what to do with it, you don't know what to do with anything.

A rejection (like Esther receives) can really push you over the edge of "handling it" into "crumbling". I describe clinical depression as feeling like you're stuck in quick sand. You're slowly sinking until you no longer really care enough to struggle against the inevitability you're facing, so you give up. You aren't worried for your own life (you don't see anything to be worried about) because you don't value your own life enough to panic, and no one else can value it for you.

You start to succumb to it all because you can't focus on anything, you can't eat, can't sleep, you cry for what seems like no reason (and it isn't out of sadness). You don't want to bathe, you can't focus on anything you know you need to do. All responsibility goes out the window because nothing really matters to you anymore, and you are just so exhausted all the time. You feel as though you just want to crawl into the chest of every person you meet and go to sleep there for a very long time, like maybe they can do the living for you.

It is terrifying in hindsight, but you aren't terrified as you're going through it because all you are feeling is a very vivid emptiness. It's emptiness, but it let's you know it's there. You can feel the hollowness inside of you, it almost feels like you're already dead, like you're a zombie.

This book chronicles this remarkably well because Sylvia Plath suffered from the same issues she wrote about. It may seem illogical how quickly Esther breaks down but that is only because she was pushed over an edge where she could no longer handle the depression, but it had always been there. That is how it happens. You are drowning in the quick sand, but you aren't fully drowned, you aren't completely under until the last second. You're coping, then you're not.
Dianna I can relate. I don't think there is any way to explain it to someone who has not experienced it.
Veda
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Creep I really got the feeling of 'building up' from this book. From the very beginning there was a definite emptiness to Esther, and that progressed throughout the story. Sometimes a descent into madness is like a wild storm, it comes from nowhere and destroys everything in its path, hence the 'sudden' feeling. Maybe that was Sylvia's point though? Not everybody can pick up on the descent into insanity until it's too late - and then it seems to be happening all at once? I don't know, an interesting thought but. :)
Austė Žalnieriūnaitė If you suffer from bipolar or borderline disorder, insanity can come pretty quickly and without any notice. You can be up one second and down the next. My downs are mostly triggered by such small things as a wrong word or a wrong glance. All the negativity grows from a small itch to an enormous inner pain/sadness. In my case — disappointment and feeling of worthlessness. I can also relate to the lying/living in the fantasies, creating various scenarios of the life, pretending to be someone else... I guess that the feelings in the book are described with much sincerity and makes it really touching/beautiful.
Samv It seemed sudden. I think because Plath meant for us to feel as lost as Ester. The story might seem rushed but the feeling is very accurate.

(Spoilers Ahead)
You become disinterested in things (dropping out of school), then anxiety follows (her inability to choose a summer project or decide on her future), then you act irrationally (her weird ideas, and seemingly random and misplaced bouts of anger and irritability), you try new things that may be out of character or against the grain (losing her virginity), and you basically just self-destruct in all these little ways, one after the other, without really thinking about it. Once it starts, it progresses quickly. Something in New York must have set her off.
Maria I haven't read all the previous answers, so maybe I am repeating something that someone already said.

I could relate to the main character way too easily. It is a scary thought - a suicidal depressed character, and yet I get everything she says. Maybe I could use this book as a prove of my diagnose, though I have never been to the shrink.

The way I see depression, It starts with a very simple little thing - sense of purposelessness. Feeling lost and useless.
When you don't care about superficial, "tip of the iceberg" things, when your thoughts go way deeper into areas they probably shouldn't go. When you feel like drowning in your own thoughts. It is fully mental and controllable by the person. The moment you switch your thinking is the moment you cure yourself. It if quite difficult, clearly. For some it takes time. For some there isn't enough time at all.

Depression can start at any point, for no apparent reason, but most of the time we see depression evolve after some sort of tragic experience. Why it happens? (IMHO, from my own experience) Because you try to shut down from the world and emotions. Try to minimize the pain by not letting yourself feel properly. And if you succeed, you, unfortunately, shut down not just pain but ANY emotions. So you become grey, and the world around you becomes grey. You don't have reactions to things around you and therefore you can't make decisions, because everything is equally (un)attractive.

Like someone mentioned already, the progression wasn't rush, because she was already depressed to begin with. We don't know for how long. The book shows a specific time period. Within that time period depression escalated and got to a suicidal point. I have never been there, so I can't say when and how fast can someone fall into that kind of thinking.

Don't know if that was helpful at all hehe
sophie luhring believe me, it’s not hasty. the insanity just kind of happens and you often don’t realize it’s about to come until your smack in the middle of it. as someone who’s struggled with a lot of the mental stuff that’s described in this book, it’s scarily relatable and scarily accurate.
Joe reads the books "Insanity" is too extreme a word to describe what Esther was going through. She's experiencing major depressive disorder which I absolutely can relate to, and bipolar disorder which I cannot. I definitely know what it's like to feel lost after highschool and in college. Not knowing what you want to do, not knowing what you can or should do, and feeling very overwhelmed and then getting in a toxic self-doubting cycle that can rob years of your life (in my case most of my 20s), and there was absolutely self-harm and suicidal ideation in there too (but no attempts).

So yes I definitely related to parts of Esther's experience. I think it's a beautiful book.
Eileen To some extent, I agree with others that it was a gradual descent. But only to a point. For me, it was a downward trajectory, but then she fell off a cliff unexpectedly. I felt like she was holding on, and then all of a sudden she says she didn't sleep for a week. I would have expected to be brought along for the ride, experiencing not sleeping for a day, and then another and then another. But instead, she just all of a sudden declares that she didn't sleep for a week, and everything changes.
Andy Mackay I read The Bell Jar a couple of years back when I was about 50, and I'm male. I was so disappointed when I finished the book that went and read it again there and then, which is something I have never done, disappointed not because it was bad but because I didn't want it to end . I thought it was like a female version of The Catcher in the Rye, and The Catcher in the Rye is also a very slim tome. I had read The Catcher in the Rye when I was a teenager, which is the correct time to read it, if I had know about The Bell Jar then I would have read that when I was 17 too. To associate this to your question, when folk write books about mental health issues they have suffered when they were young, perhaps is so painful that they find it difficult to make them long.
Liberty Elliott
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Jenn Yes... this sounds very familiar :-(
Joe Rodeck Not see insanity. Just depression.
Océane Reads I wouldn't say it was rushed because it wasn't like a switch, but rather a downward spiral which had already started before the beginning of the novel. her mind was bleak already, she just could not live her life like this any longer and then broke down. also, I wouldn' t call her 'insane'?
Sophia Adams
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Peter Leeson Not rushed or hasty at all. I hadn't experienced what she had - truthfully no one person experience it the same way. A close family member did. This book helped me gain some understanding.
Emerson Well, she's obviously in some sort of depressive state, before anyone knew how to treat depression. Her depressive state is all-too-familiar for me. The key difference is that, back then, we didn't have medication to fix our brain chemistry. Where psychiatrists give us pills now and maybe we go through therapy, they found less humane ways of treating us. I can imagine being in a depressive state and having to deal with electroshock or incarceration. Yes, things would indeed escalate quickly.
Steven I have never personally experienced clinical depression.

I think Sylvia Plath is a brilliant writer though.

It is horrible how her depression got the best of her.
LAURA K. I personally have never had a breakdown of that magnitude, but the reader needs to take into account that the central character's descent into madness began before the book did. But yes, it is possible. I experience deep depression at times, where the feeling Plath describes as "stewing in my own sour air," is a metaphor for that feeling, where it feels like your brain is wrapped in wool, and it feels like the world is born solely on your shoulders, breaking you down until you can't read or think or sleep, and it feels like nobody can understand.
Hope this helped. (╭☞✧Ѡ✧)╭☞
Gry Ranfelt Rushed? But she's descending from the very moment we meet her and way before that. I felt it was very nicely built up. I felt clearly that this had been a long way coming.
And going off like that ... it's very much like going off a cliff, so it definitely can feel hasty if the first clues are not spotted.
Rachel No, I don't think Esther's decent into insanity was rushed at all. I relate to Esther in many ways. The more people you meet that don't understand you- like the doctors that Esther sees, her mother, and her friends- the further you get pushed into depression. Unfortunately, like Esther experiences, too many people are so quick to jump onto stereotypes once you try and help yourself. The more people Esther seeks out, the more people seem to misunderstand her. This is something that has happened to me as well, and it can very quickly pull a "Bell Jar" around you and make you feel incredibly alone.
Donovan "Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including a person becoming a danger to themselves or others." By definition if she's suicidal she is very likely insane. I don't think most people understand the difference between depression and insanity. Millions of people are clinically depressed but they don't put their heads in a fucking oven like Plath.
Anna I don't think it was rushed or hasty actually. I thought it was just right. There are a lot of clues and bits that hint at it from the very first chapter.
Cody Mccall I think that the descent seems rushed because maybe Esther had been living with this mental illness all her life and then the night at the party kind of brought the illness out.
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