ClassicThe Bell Jar by Syliva Plath

The Bell Jar by Syliva Plath


Here’s the thing. The Bell Jar, an almost mythical, revered American classic, featuring on countless best novel of all time lists, has been a favourite of mine for a long time. However. Recently I have begun to think about how entrenched the book is in its privilege and time, with racial references that wouldn’t be ok today. Isn’t the beauty of time and growth our ability to develop our views? Isn’t this contextual, representative of when it was written? Can it still be a favourite? What do you think?

Sylvia Plath is a person spoken of in hushed tones. Severely suffering from depression, her only novel is largely based on her experiences struggling with identity, misogyny and mental ill health. Published in 1963, weeks before the author’s death, this is the story of Esther Greenwood, a young writer working as an intern for a women’s magazine in New York. As her health deteriorates and after a failed suicide attempt, Esther is admitted to a private mental health hospital, funded by an eccentric benefactor.

Reading this is like hearing Plath’s voice from beyond the grave. Written in a confessional style, it is visceral, melancholic and disconcerting, a tale of self doubt, of fear. You are willing Esther and through her, Plath to recover. Shining a spotlight on deplorable historic treatments and the perception of mental illness, the bell jar is still so relevant and sadly relatable for many.

My favourite element of the writing is the vivid imagery created. Her analogy of her depression as a bell jar, enveloping her very soul, causing inescapable darkness to reverberate around her will always stay with me. 

I think of passages in My Body by @emrata detailing being in the Maldives on a free holiday at the height of success, utterly miserable, and can’t help but compare Esther, on her dream internship, with seemingly everything going for her, who similarly is spiralling. For the stark, raw presentation of this topic, which would have been so much more taboo breaking in the 1960s, I think the Bell Jar will always be a book of importance for millions of people.

– Chaya

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