Colin McKay Miller's Reviews > The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
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Mar 01, 2012

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Read from February 29 to March 21, 2012

The Bell Jar probably gets more praise than it should for the macabre connections to the author’s life, but it’s still an interesting read.

Like Édouard Levé’s Suicide, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is known for its connection to the author's real life clinical depression and suicide. With both reads, readers assume some parts double as a thinly veiled suicide letter, and in the case of Plath’s now much studied book, it’s regarded as partially autobiographical (with names and places altered). The read is probably more for high school girls / college age women, and I can definitely see why it’s called a female version of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (although I’d argue it’s closer to Franny and Zooey). For me, it’s not a good thing to be compared to that big phony Sally, but The Bell Jar does better, as it seems as though the protagonist has enough empathy and sense to see how things affect other people.

The story is told from the perspective of Esther Greenwood, a young woman interning with a prominent New York magazine. It opens with a great hook on Esther’s fear of electrocution—a theme that you know is going to return. However, for the first half of the novel, Esther is just working away as a writer while you’re waiting for things to fall apart (although there is a great storyline where her roommate, Doreen, starts seeing a questionable man, Lenny Shepherd). Esther has insecurities and a growing feeling of inadequacy, but it isn’t until the second half the novel where things begin to shift and slowly fall apart.

In all honesty, I don’t think Esther’s depression necessarily works in fiction. It feels like something true that got pulled into the novel, but fiction has to make more sense than real life. It’s not way off, but it’s noticeable. Additionally, she’s got a relationship with a hometown boy, Buddy Willard, and a view on sex that is likely considered by many to be outdated at this point. That said, I did enjoy how Esther’s view on Buddy Willard is a slow reveal. Additionally, I appreciated the ending; and while it’s certainly elevated due to Plath’s real life finish, even if I think it wouldn’t have near the hold it would if Plath were alive today, these are the parameters we’re working with, thus her suicide is a part of The Bell Jar story. I debated marking it down to two-and-a-half stars, but for all I can criticize, much of The Bell Jar has the right feel, so three stars.
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Reading Progress

03/19/2012 page 100
45.0% "As noted elsewhere, got a serious case of reader's block again."

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