The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Having landed a highly coveted position as an intern for a prominent New York based magazine, talented and intellectual Boston native Esther Greenwood experiences the glamour of the big city for the first time. Though she makes new friends, Esther, far from enjoying the perks of her position, which include shopping, eating out and never ending social engagements, finds herself feeling frightened and paranoid.
The book goes on to outline Esther’s year in the ‘bell jar’ as she describes it, a period in which the boundaries between the real and the imagined become blurred. Her active mind is overwhelmed by a multitude of thoughts, including numerous potential paths for her life, resulting in her descending into mental turmoil and culminating in an inevitable stint in a mental institution.
Esther is a disillusioned character seeking excitement, who feels constrained by the male dominated, conservative American society of the 1950s. In this context her mental anguish and thoughts, such as her determination to lose her virginity as soon as possible, can be viewed as a personal revolt against stereotypes of women.
The Bell Jar is an erudite, humorous and disturbing semi-autobiographical novel that has been embraced by the feminist movement. Plath not only offers the reader an insight into an emotionally disturbed mind, she also adeptly elicits sympathy for her cynical, funny and self-indulgent protagonist.