Wednesday, 7 May 2014

'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath: A Book Review

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.
(Summary taken from Goodreads)

This book. Wow. My goodness. Just... wow. 

Sylvia Plath has always intrigued me ever since I read one of her poems many years ago and wondered why her writing was so depressing and dark. Then I found out that she had killed herself by sticking her head into an oven. That explained things... somewhat.
I'm glad I read this novel now instead of a few years ago. Firstly, because this story does have some explicit content, and secondly because I wouldn't have been mature enough to understand her writing. This book is deep, friends. Really deep.

Books about depression and struggle and tough times really interest me ('Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock' is a notable example). Naturally, I was drawn to this story, especially since it is semi-autobiographical.

At the beginning of the novel, I could relate to Esther so much that I was starting to wonder if this was normal. I can't explain how or why, but everything, from the way Esther thought to the way she felt - everything seemed to be a reflection of my own thoughts and feelings. It felt like Sylvia Plath was writing about me, to me.

That started to change after a couple of chapters. Let me be frank here: Esther Greenwood is mean, sadistic and in no way has a sweet disposition. Some of her actions are uncalled for and she comes across as everything a main character shouldn't be.

In spite of that, though I can't sympathise with her towards the end, I can still relate to her. Because underneath her shallow, selfish exterior, there is a broken interior that feels like a part of me. 

The title of this novel, The Bell Jar, aptly describes Esther's feelings of confinement and entrapment. On one hand, Esther is unable to break free of society's many expectations, and on the other hand, her own feelings of self-doubt and depression suffocate her to no end.

This is the only novel Sylvia Plath has ever penned. But it in no way suffers from the classic first book syndrome, because it might as well have been a collection of Plath's poetry. Her writing is so poetic, so beautiful, that it invokes all your senses and draws you into the sorrows of Esther's life. This is definitely the best-written novel I have ever read. Even if you despise Esther and the storyline, you can't hate the writing. 

I can't pick favourites, so here are quite a few quotes from The Bell Jar that really leave me speechless:

The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence.

But when it came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defensless that I couldn't do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn't in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get.

“We'll act as if all this were a bad dream."
A bad dream.
To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.
A bad dream.

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 names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.

Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace. 

Sylvia Plath, you are the goddess of writing. Thank you so much for writing this book. I can't begin to imagine what you went though, and how difficult it must have been to share your experiences with the world. I truly hope you are at peace now.

I'm going to go with 4 stars out of 5 for The Bell Jar.

Fair warning: this book may not be your cup of tea. You might even hate it because of Esther's character. But one thing is for sure: when you finish this book, your head will be spinning with thoughts of self-doubt and you will probably question your very existence, as I did. But once the temporary effects of this book wear off, you'll realise what a work of art this is. 

The Bell Jar is a masterpiece that everyone should read at least once in their lifetime!
If you've read The Bell Jar, do tell me what you thought of Esther, the dark themes in this novel and the thought-provoking writing. Which part of the novel did you like best?

See you next time, Geeks! 


  1. Is the poem you mentioned in the beginning called Mirror? Also, great review as always! (y)

    I'll also put this on my reading list, although I have no idea when I will actually get time to read. Damn you, class 12th. -.-

    1. Yes! It was part of our ninth grade English syllabus. :)
      Wait, are you graduating high school this year or are you starting 12th this year?

    2. I'm starting 12th this year, I'll graduate in 2015.
      Yeah, I remember reading it in 9th too! :)

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