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The Bell Jar (P.S.)


The Bell Jar (P.S.) Cover

ISBN13: 9780061148514
ISBN10: 0061148512
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A Special Paperback Edition to Commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of Sylvia Plath's Remarkable Novel

Sylvia Plath's shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity

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.


This extraordinary work--echoing Plath's own experiences as a rising writer/editor in the early 1950s--chronicles the nervous breakdown of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, successful, but slowly going under, and maybe for the last time.


The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

About the Author

Sylvia Plath was born in 1932 in Massachusetts. Her books include the poetry collections The Colossus, Crossing the Water, Winter Trees, Ariel, and The Collected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize. She was married to the poet Ted Hughes, with whom she had a daughter, Frieda, and a son, Nicholas. She died in London in 1963.

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Shawnda, May 2, 2009 (view all comments by Shawnda)
Imagine yourself, caught up in a whirlwind of overwhelming emotions and anxieties, watching the world pass you by and not being able to escape the bell jar you are sealed in. Unable to shake these feelings, you are slowly suffocating, waiting for the jar to be opened, releasing you into a new and transformed atmosphere. This series of events is developed in Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar. It is a depiction of a young woman’s descent into a crippling depression, attempted suicide, and eventual rebirth. Plath created a gripping novel that leaves the reader questioning, despite its lack of psychological detail.
Plath created an autobiographical novel in which Esther Greenwood is a mere depiction of herself. The events within the story are loosely disguised and mirror the major events in Plath’s own life. The Bell Jar was published in the 1950’s, at a time when the ideas in the book were seen as extremely controversial. Plath addressed issues ranging from women’s roles in relationships and society, sexuality, depression, and suicide. She tied all of these subjects into one tragic and dark story about a young woman’s battle with life and mortality.
The novel takes off in New York, where Esther is one of twelve women who received a month-long internship for a fashion magazine in the city. An overachiever, Esther worked exceedingly more than her peers, balancing college, the internship, and honors classes on her agenda. As the pressures of her work and her swelling insecurities began to heighten, Esther sank deeper into an unfamiliar slump. Soon, overwhelmed with emotions and inadequacy, Esther became less aware of who she was, where she was going, and if she even wanted to go wherever that was. Trying to find her identity and desires, Esther descended even farther into her anxiety and apathy.
As all this was happening, Esther was informed that she was denied admissions into a summer writing program at her college. Returning home, Esther found herself without work, and in turn without much purpose. She soon began to stay in bed all day, and did little to address her newfound depression. After receiving inadequate care and a botched shock treatment, her thoughts about suicide increased, and led to several attempts. She tried to kill herself by slitting her wrists in the bath tub, but only got as far as cutting her knee as a test. She also contemplated hanging, but concluded that the ceilings in her house were insufficient. Finally she decided on overdosing on pills, and hid herself in the basement of her house.
Esther was found by her brother several days later, and was sent to a local hospital. She was then sent to a private asylum where she was to recover. After a prolonged time in treatment, Esther began to emerge from the bell jar keeping her masked from reality, and her recovery was her rebirth into the world.
Overall, Plath addressed many controversial issues and followed an accurate description of one’s battle with depression. My main disappointment lies in the detail Plath decided to use describing Esther’s emotions. I had expected the book to have many more psychological undertones, addressing the causes of Esther’s depression and describing her therapeutic process. The only possible hint at the source of Esther’s depression was her father’s death. When Esther visited his grave, she explained “I saw my father’s gravestone…I couldn’t understand why I was crying so hard. Then I remembered that I had never cried for my father’s death” (167). Immediately after this, Esther concluded her final attempt of suicide. It is possible that Esther had many other situations similar to this, in which she never confronted the issue. Still, there was little remaining evidence of what drove her to such drastic measures. I guess what I was expecting was a Freudian influenced novel full of psychological evaluations and analyses, which is rather unrealistic. Upon further thought, I have come to appreciate the novel as a whole.
Thinking back at what Plath was facing at the time she published her novel, I realize she had a great amount of courage and ability. You come to acknowledge her straight forward style and the realism she implements in her writing. The book brought up several crucial arguments; whether or not a woman had a choice over her sexuality, if she would marry, and her career. Also, there was even less literature addressing gender roles along with depression and suicide. The issues she brings up motivate the reader to question their own beliefs and preconceived ideas. Even today these subjects are prevalent and multi-faceted. Throughout the novel, you are connecting the events to your own life, your ideas about mortality, and current issues in society. Esther is such an ordinary person, it makes you wonder if you could take her spot and be trapped in a bell jar of your own. Today, it brings up even more pressing questions. The fact that some readers are not even fazed by the serious topic of suicide is controversial in itself. It poses the concern that maybe we are so desensitized to violence and grim subjects because of daily overexposure to them.
Along with these matters and Plath’s style of writing, the reader is constantly thinking and drawing out connections. There are metaphors throughout the novel that are so cleverly drawn out, the most significant being the bell jar. Plath takes an ordinary object, something that anyone can see every day, and turns it into a manifestation of Esther’s depression, breakdown, and recovery. Something so simple can have so many meanings. To Esther, the bell jar was her deprivation. She was trapped behind the glass, unable to interject, and watched the world as it passed her by. Slowly, she retreated further and further into its shadow while the air began to run out. As soon as she began to improve, the jar began to turn itself over. Soon she explained “The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air” (215). This jar had such a profound effect on her life, and still loomed over her head with a pending possibility of return. The implementation of this symbol leaves the reader wondering if what they see everyday is really what it seems. Are the ordinary and mundane actually the dying and broken-down?
These questions present themselves throughout the novel. First impressions are often broken, and upon further thought you come to appreciate Plath’s style of writing and the messages she was trying to incorporate into Esther’s story. I have always believed that a good novel leaves the reader questioning and forming conclusions of her own, and this book accomplishes that.
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condonv, May 1, 2009 (view all comments by condonv)
Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar displays a profound understanding of the fall into deep medical depression and the drastic, rapid mental decline experienced as Esther Greenwood lives in her own bell jar of suicidal thoughts. Her fierce writing style and psychological understanding of the complex emotions individuals feel when they are apart of this level of deterioration leaves her audience in awe.
Plath’s comprehension of this mental struggle is reflective of her own psyche. This novel is a representation of her daily battle with suicidal demons. On February 11, 1963, in her British home, Plath killed herself by allowing gas to suffocate her. Before her untimely death, and still today, she is viewed as an outstanding poet. Before The Bell Jar was written, Plath’s major works were the collections of poems, The Colosssus and Ariel. These poems even awarded her the honor of being told these poems were worthy of a Pulitzer by the popular critic A. Alvarez. Plath’s work in The Bell Jar also earned ravings (and criticisms as well) for her themes and unique style.
This novel arises the enveloping theme of obsession. The beginning of the work allows Esther Greenwood to characterize her life through the lens of herself and society by her expectance “to be the envy of thousands of other college girls”(2). Yet within her supposed-to-be world, she felt “very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo”(3). This sensation of emptiness drives her into denial over her obsession with Buddy Willard and the upfront obsession with death. The repetition of Willard’s affair leads to an obsession with Greenwood’s own virginity and her feeling of inadequacy. In turn, this sensation of inadequacy creates her longing for death.
Plath’s vivid elaboration of Greenwood’s suicidal mentality allows an outstanding description of the ability to sharply turn into clinical depression. Her pointed diction stabs as Greenwood depicts the bluntness of death. This painful view of ending is witnessed as she describes the eastern samurai’s tradition of seppuku. Her diction of the passage:
“they disemboweled themselves when anything went wrong…before they had time to think twice, they would jab the knives in and zip them round, one on the upper crescent and one on the lower crescent, making a full circle. Then their stomach skin would come loose, and they would die”(138)
allows fluid visualization of the painful death. These descriptions within the novel allow the readers to be transported into the character’s mind and view the obsession of death that plagues the clinically depressed’ minds. The syntax of run-on sentences displays the rapid thought process and excitement of the pleasures of suicide. Because there is no break in the sentence, as it is read there is one long thought without a sufficient pause. This is then followed by an abrupt truth, such as “it would take two motions”(147) after Greenwood describes her developed plan for cutting her wrists. The simplicity of the fact reflects the simplicity of the idea in the suicidal perspective. This brilliant technique to gain understanding is one that sets this novel apart from others.
The Bell Jar is a work that will be preserved through time. Plath’s developed themes through the novel are the world’s constant. It is transports the thought process of the struggling individual to those who may not fully comprehend the challenges and will continue to do so for eons to come.
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KatieEW27, May 1, 2009 (view all comments by KatieEW27)
“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream”(237). Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar captivates readers with the story of a young woman’s unexpected spiral into depression. Esther Greenwood falls apart when she seems to have the whole world at her fingertips. The purpose of this work is to demonstrate the unexpectedness of psychological disorders and to prove they can affect even the most privileged people. Everyone can appreciate this work, but women may find it more intriguing as it comes from a female’s perspective and one of the triggers for her downfall is the relationships with and the expectations of men. Overall, this is a fascinating novel, but leaves the reader with unanswered questions.
The novel opens with Esther in New York City. “We had all won a fashion magazine contest by writing essays and stories and poems and fashion blurbs, and as prizes they gave us jobs in New York, expenses paid, and piles and piles of free bonuses”(3). As she seems to be living a fabulous life of a young socialite, moments of unhappiness are revealed. After talking to her boss one day she states, “I felt very low… and I felt now that all the uncomfortable suspicions I had about myself were coming true, and I couldn’t hide the truth much longer”(29). She has multiple flashbacks about her “boyfriend” Buddy Willard and other men she encountered. While recalling Buddy she thinks, “I discovered quite by accident what an awful hypocrite he was, and now he wanted me to marry him and I hated his guts”(52). Her breakdown begins in New York but intensifies as she comes back home to the Boston suburbs for the summer. She is taken to an unfeeling and traumatizing psychiatrist where her depression only worsens. She is then sent to another psychiatric hospital where she is under the care of a kind female doctor, Dr, Nolan. Even with the loving understanding of the new doctor, Esther still feels like she is trapped, watching the world instead of joining it. “The air of the bell jar wadded round me and I couldn’t stir”(186). Throughout the novel she has flashbacks of Buddy, her family, and other instances that occurred during her life. These memories reveal some possible reasons for her psychological breakdown. The events that happen to Esther define the themes of the work.
The themes of this novel are particularly important because they are the reasons for Esther Greenwood’s depression. The major themes of this novel are the pressure of expectations of others, particularly pressures put upon women, and undefined depression. There was pressure put on Esther, a lot of it coming from herself, to be successful in school, to get the best grades, and to take the hardest courses. There was also a contrasting pressure to give it all up to become a wife and mother. At one point, she is talking to Buddy about how she did not want to have to choose just one thing, and he then calls her neurotic for her desire. She responds with, “If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time then I’m neurotic as hell!”(94). She hated the double standard between men and women and was upset by the tendencies of men to do whatever they pleased while she was expected to remain pure until marriage. “Now I saw he had only been pretending all this time to be so innocent”(70). All of these expectations and pressures built up until she fell into a deep depression. This depression is undefined because there is no one singular event that triggers it. Her downfall is almost casual and it is only by looking into her past that some events could be seen as causes, such as the death of her father or her unpleasant experiences with men. Back home in Boston, she comes to a realization about her father’s passing. “Then I remembered that I had never cried for my father’s death”(167). This adds to her already broken emotional state. Here was a girl that seemed to have everything, but was unhappy because she could not escape her past and was unsure about reality. These powerful themes create an extremely intriguing work.
Overall, this novel is very interesting. The nonchalant way she slips into depression is striking and addicting. This story is relatable because many people have been overwhelmed by pressures and expectations at some point in their lives. At one point she thinks about moving to Chicago and changing her name to shake her judgmental surroundings. “Nobody would know I had thrown up a scholarship at a big eastern women’s college and mucked up a month in New York and refused a perfectly solid medical student for a husband”(132). This is just one incident where it is obvious the pressure of expectations becomes overwhelming. However, this work can be hard to follow because the timeline jumps around a lot, and there are pieces of time that are missing altogether. The flashbacks reveal a lot of necessary background information, but can be confusing as to when they occurred. For example, Esther talks about how much she hates Buddy Willard, but then she is visiting him at his college.“I had kept begging Buddy to show me some really interesting hospital sights, so one Friday I cut all my classes and came down for a long weekend and he gave me the works”(63). The one drawback is that the ending leaves the reader wanting more. There are multiple questions raised in the final pages but there are no real answers. This novel suggests that psychological disorders can happen to anyone, even those with seemingly endless opportunities. The author’s use of a sympathetic tone throughout the text makes Esther seem not as crazy as her ideas are almost rationalized because the reader can see the pain she has experienced.
The idea of undefined depression that Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar exhibits is fascinating because a young woman with so much going for her completely breaks down. Though the book is at points confusing, it keeps the reader interested. The only disappointing part is the unfinished ending, but it should not stop someone from reading this profound work.
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Product Details

Plath, Sylvia
HarperCollins Publishers
Foreword by:
McCullough, Frances
McCullough, Frances
by Sylvia Plath
Depression, mental
Women college students
Psychological fiction
Suicidal behavior
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
, Y
8 x 7.5 in 9.12 oz

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Poetry » A to Z

The Bell Jar (P.S.) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 288 pages HarperCollins Publishers - English 9780061148514 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , This extraordinary work--echoing Plath's own experiences as a rising writer/editor in the early 1950s--chronicles the nervous breakdown of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, successful, but slowly going under, and maybe for the last time.

"Synopsis" by , The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

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