The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

“…wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

We all live in bell jars from time to time. I don’t think there is any human being, lived or living, has escaped from being trapped in a bell jar at some point in their lives. The difference is that some of us break through and find our peace and contentment, either by ourselves or with the help of others. But some of us may not be that lucky. Even with the help and care of others, we may not have the strength and courage to break through the confining bell jar. This is the story of us all who are trapped in bell jars. But most importantly, this is the story of we who struggle, heavily and bitterly, and perhaps unsuccessfully, to break from our own bell jars.

Sylvia Plath’s only novel is semi-autobiographical. This fact makes the work realistic and powerful, for readers cannot disregard that the material was stemming out of her own experience. It is said that there is a thin line dividing the genius and insane, and you can see how true that description is when you read the story. It is truly sad that one must pay a hard price for being a genius.

Esther Greenwood, the A-grade scholar, who everyone thinks is lucky and expects to shine in the world, is secretly fighting a dark battle. To the world, she is a genius, a potential future name. But to her, she is nothing but a hopeless wreck, who is qualified for nothing. This devaluation of self drags her to the bottom pit of hopelessness and envelops her with a vacant feeling which grows steadily till she seeks to escape into the unknown. From the failed attempted suicide to the asylum and freedom, she must struggle and struggle and struggle. Is there ever a freedom for her? Will the bell jar be closed on her forever?

Sylvia writes truthfully, emotionally, and with power. It’s realistic, but unsettling at the same time. There are parts that are gut-wrenching and difficult to stomach. Some parts will bring you completely on your knees. When she wrote “I wanted to tell her that if only something were wrong with my body it would be fine, I would rather have anything wrong with my body than something wrong with my head…”, it truly broke my heart. I wanted to shout at Esther, at Sylvia, and say “I see you!”

The story is emotionally wrecking. The firsthand narration of a person who descends into a dark abyss is not something easy to read. “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.” The world is a bad dream for the one affected, and the story is one of horror to the one who reads. It is a depressing book. But I’d like to look at it as a beautiful work on mental illness, an anthem of tribute to those who have fallen or will fall into that painful dark abyss. It’s tragic that Sylvia Plath had to end her life as she did. But her life, her suffering told to the world through this novel, will be her legacy to us. And The Bell Jar will always be a beautiful representation of her and those who have, and who will walk her path.

Rating: 4/5

About the author

Piyangie Jay Ediriwickrema is an Attorney-at-Law by profession. Her devotion to literature has taken shape in reading and reviewing books of various genres set in different periods of time. She dabs at a little poetry and fiction of her own and hopes to share her work with the readers in the future.