Book Review – The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

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The bell jar is a metaphor. A person in mental agony feels like a bell jar has been placed on top of her so that she rots in her own stench while the rest of the world goes on with its business. The book talks in metaphors in many places and I find that style of writing characteristically American. One more feature is the amount of abstract emotions on display here. The author describes so many things which have no name in common parlance and yet, you feel a strange “I knowww, right?” feeling. It is such a real novel.

It was a painful read where at one point, I felt like giving up. To know that the writer committed suicide after penning this novel is a tad disconcerting. It is hard to imagine someone writing about hanging oneself or disemboweling oneself — things so personal like dark memories and other wretched thoughts — and people soaking it all in without taking immediate note of the writer’s condition.

The fact that Plath, at 30 years of age, thrust her head in the oven and committed suicide while under treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts goes on to show the amount of alienation that existed in that society. The alienation has been on the rise since then and we haven’t really learned anything as a society as far as dealing with mental health patients goes.

Coming back to the book, it is troubled prose with the beauty of a swirling, potent river. The writer switches from one thought to another with such ease that it seems artistic. The thoughts may just be the real pull behind writing the novel and it, in hindsight, seems more like expression and less like art.

The story is of a girl who is living on her own in New York. She has strong thoughts on virginity thanks to her religious mother. Her boyfriend is not a virgin, a fact that he had hid from her. He is a medical student who has contacted TB. Esther, the protagonist, has real world problems like a drunken roommate and boys hitting on her right up to the first few pages of the book.

The writing helps you get inside the mind of a young female and then she loses it. Once the mind is lost, the story warps and takes place from asylum to asylum. Horrifying experiences with electroconvulsive therapy follow. All the dreams of becoming a renowned poetess or editor turn into multiple voices in the head. The writer continues the story in the first person account even when the “first person” isn’t capable of logical reasoning anymore. This lends a unique medical and historical importance to the book as the writing is too real. It is the journal of a person keeping record of her day by day mental health deterioration. Coming from the patient herself, the book feels more than legit.

There were spelling errors in my copy and they made the writing seem even more troubled. The scene where the protagonist wants to hang herself but finds that the ceiling won’t be able to support her is particularly eerie. She walks around the house with the rope tied around her neck.

I wish there was better help available.

5 Stars

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One comment

  1. I’m actually reading this at the moment & am so touched by her story. At the same time, some of her feelings I can associate with but ultimately, she’s so brave during a time when EST was the way to get rid of the ‘crazy’. Great write up!

    Like

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