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The Bell Jar (P.S.)


The Bell Jar (P.S.) Cover

ISBN13: 9780060837020
ISBN10: 0060837020
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.


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.

About the Author

To this day, Sylvia Plath's writings continue to inspire and provoke. Her only published novel, The Bell Jar, remains a classic of American literature, and The Colossus(1960), Ariel (1965), Crossing the Water(1971), Winter Trees(1971), and The Collected Poems(1981) have placed her among this century's essential American poets.

Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932, the first child of Aurelia and Otto Plath. When Sylvia was eight years old, her father died--an event that would haunt her remaining years--and the family moved to the college town of Wellesley. By high school, Plath's talents were firmly established; in fact, her first published poem had appeared when she was eight. In 1950, she entered Smith College, where she excelled academically and continued to write; and in 1951 she won Mademoiselle magazine's fiction contest. Her experiences during the summer of 1953--as a guest editor at Mademoiselle in New York City and in deepening depression back home--provided the basis for The Bell Jar. Near that summer's end, Plath nearly succeeded in killing herself. After therapy and electroshock, however, she resumed her academic and literary endeavors. Plath graduated from Smith in 1955 and, as a Fulbright Scholar, entered Newnham College, in Cambridge, England, where she met the British poet, Ted Hughes. They were married a year later. After a two-year tenure on the Smith College faculty and a brief stint in Boston, Plath and Hughes returned to England, where their two children were born.

Plath had been successful in placing poems in several prestigious magazines, but suffered repeated rejection in her attempts to place a first book. The Colossus appeared in England, however, in the fall of 1960, and the publisher, William Heinemann, also bought her first novel. By June 1962, she had begun the poems that eventually appeared in Ariel. Later that year, separated from Hughes, Plath immersed herself in caring for her children, completing The Bell Jar, and writing poems at a breathtaking pace.

A few days before Christmas 1962, she moved with the children to a London flat. By the time The Bell Jarwas published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, in early 1963, she was in desperate circumstances. Her marriage was over, she and her children were ill, and the winter was the coldest in a century. Early on the morning of February 11, Plath turned on the cooking gas and killed herself.

Plath was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1982 for her Collected Poems.

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Kayla Anderson, March 14, 2014 (view all comments by Kayla Anderson)
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath follows the heart wrenching story of a young woman’s battle with depression. This novel is a must read as Plath’s use of characterization and symbolism bring the story to life. Overall, The Bell Jar is a timeless novel that comments on the idea of freedom through suffering.

Life for young women in the 1950s sets the stage for this emotional novel of one girls bouts with insanity and thoughts of suicide. Women in this time period were just coming around to having lives outside of the home, such as having careers, other than being secretaries and teachers. Along with the upcoming freedom women were beginning to experience, this novel is semi-autobiographical of the life of Sylvia Plath as well. The plot of The Bell Jar mirrors Plath’s own life events such as interning at a magazine in New York City, developing depression and attempting suicide. Overall, realizing that this novel details parts of Sylvia Plath’s own life helps the reader to understand that the thoughts of Esther Greenwood are, in fact, the thoughts of a mentally unstable person.

The characterization, symbols, and themes in The Bell Jar make this novel timeless. Esther Greenwood is the protagonist and narrator of the story. Since the novel is told from first person point of view the readers are able to be inside of Esther’s head and witness her slow mental deterioration. The characterization of Esther having low self confidence and believing that she had been “inadequate all along” (72), even though she comes from a normal family and has way above average grades, points out to the readers that depression can plague anyone. Furthermore, the descriptions Esther uses to explain why she wants to kill herself are chilling. Esther explains that “It was as if what [she] wanted to kill wasn’t in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under [her] thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get at” (142). Overall, she does not want to die, but she wants to be rid of the part of her that is filled with this insanity. In addition, the symbolism helps with Esther’s characterization because she feels that she is trapped inside a bell jar, she is confined in an airless vacuum that she is unable to escape from. Esther’s peace only comes when “All the heat and fear had purged itself” (206) and “The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above [her] head. [She] was open to the circulating air” (206). Even though Esther is freed from the bell jar she knows that it is still there waiting to descend and make “the world itself...a bad dream” (227) again. Esther has a constant battle with herself for freedom in The Bell Jar, this fight for freedom through suffering is the underlying theme that envelopes the entire novel. Plath continually comments on the fact that to be free in life, one must suffer first. However, Plath brings her novel to an uplifting ending as Esther’s suffering comes to an end and she is “perfectly free” (232).

All of these literary elements come together to make The Bell Jar an everlasting story. This novel is eternal because Esther is an ordinary young woman who is struck with depression at the height of her youth. Her story could be placed in any setting and any time period yet still achieve the same effects. Plath’s control of the literary elements of characterization and point of view pull the readers into the novel by allowing them to witness Esther’s downward spiral into the pits of insanity. In my opinion, The Bell Jar achieves its ultimate goal of revealing the horrifying truth that mental illness is not solely for the weak or disadvantaged, it can happen to anyone.

Altogether, Sylvia Plath has written a timeless novel that utilizes characterization and symbolism to comment on the theme that in order to reach freedom, one must suffer first. The Bell Jar is an ultimate must read because it is raw, chilling and realistic. Overall, the larger point that Plath is trying to comment on in The Bell Jar is the idea that insanity does not prey on the deprived.
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Maddy Englert, March 10, 2014 (view all comments by Maddy Englert)
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is a well written novel that emphasizes the importance of freedom in life. By taking readers into a world where both mental and physical freedoms are at risk, this novel stresses freedom’s importance to individuals. The Bell Jar also emphasizes the chaos that can occur once freedom is taken away from an individual. The main character, Esther, experiences life while battling depression. However, this disease does not stop Plath from connecting readers to Esther. The ability to feel as though you are experiencing the disease right along with Esther is one of the most unique pieces that Plath was able to portray. This novel exceeded far beyond my expectations, and I believe it will satisfy any reader wanting to look at life through a different lens. Through Plath’s use of flashback and similes, she was able to create a fantastic novel that pulls readers right in, making them feel as though they are living through the same roller coaster of depression that Esther experiences.
When reading this novel, it is important to keep in mind the time period that it was written in. Published in 1971, the roles between women and men in society were different from what they are today. At this time, it was expected of women to be mothers and perform the domestic duties in life. Men however, had the freedom to choose what they wanted to do as long as they supported their family’s needs. These roles shaped Esther’s view on physical freedoms, without realizing the mental freedoms depression was taking away from her. “So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about numb as a slave in some private, totalitarian state”(69). This idea of having freedom taken away from Esther comes up multiple times throughout the novel, demonstrating the more powerful role men in society had at the time when this novel was written.

From start to finish, readers witness Esther’s major transformations caused by her depression. Unlike many novels where coming of age starts at the bottom and works its way to the top, this novel’s coming of age works like a roller coaster, traveling in ups and downs all the way through. Readers watch as Esther falls from a happy time without depression to the moment when she hits rock bottom. “Then, at the rim of vision, it gathered itself, and in one sweeping tide, rushed me to sleep”(138). After Esther’s weakest moments, readers are then carried through her days on the road to recovery. “I had pretended I didn’t know why they were moving me from the hospital in my home town to a city hospital, to see what they would say”(143). While reading through this journey, the most remarkable aspect is how Plath is able to make the reader feel as though they are the main character. Plath’s use of flashbacks allow enough context for readers to infer what characters and events led Esther to depression. Plath’s use of similes also allows readers to compare their personal emotions to Esther’s depressed thoughts, allowing readers to experience Ether’s life with her. “I felt like a racehorse in a world without racetracks or a champion college footballer suddenly confronted by Wall Street and a business suit, his days of glory shrunk to a little gold cup on his mantel with a date engraved on it like the date on a tombstone”(62). This simile allows readers to relate their feelings to Esther’s feelings and try to understand what Ether’s life would be like.

Personally, I feel that the author’s goal was to give readers the opportunity to live through a life with depression. With that goal in mind, Sylvia Plath accomplished it far above my expectations. I was amazed at Plath’s ability to allow me to relate to a character that was sick with depression so closely and understand what she was going through. Sylvia Plath was also successfully able to give readers enough background information through her use of flashback without explaining every detail that Esther had ever experienced. Readers were able to realize at what points Esther was either slowly falling or recovering from depression without having unrealistic major events that transformed her. This made the journey seem realistic to what a similar situation in life today would be like. By the great detail Plath provided in Esther’s personal thoughts and opinions, both her actions as well as her surroundings were convincing. When understanding the time that this novel was written, the concept of freedom and Esther’s constant fear of losing this freedom was understandable. This was successfully connected to Esther’s negative view on the majority of people and events in her life due to her sickness. Overall, I would highly recommend this novel to anyone in search of a novel that gives you a new perspective on life by taking you into a world where you live as though you are suffering from depression.

Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar is a novel that questions the idea of freedom, both mental and physical. This idea of freedom is shown through the lack of physical freedoms Esther felt she had in the world, as well as the mental freedoms taken away from her due to her depression. Plath’s ability to successfully relate readers to Esther and her depression allows readers to understand the importance of freedom in life, as well as the problems that arise when this freedom is taken away.
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ashley.kershaw, March 30, 2012 (view all comments by ashley.kershaw)
The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, is a novel that holds heavy elements like depression, suicide, and sex, therefore it is not a novel meant for those who are discomforted easily. The story involves Esther, a girl trapped in a world of unreality and uncertainty which leads her to attempt suicide. Sylvia Plath traces experiences from her own life in this text. The Bell Jar is a chilling, yet brilliant story that brings light to the world of depression.

As previously stated, Sylvia Plath includes autobiographical elements in this book. She, like the protagonist in the story, was born and raised near Boston. Plath’s father died when she was 8 years old; similar to how Esther loses her father at the age of 9 in The Bell Jar. When Plath began to write this novel, she based much of it on her own life. Plath eventually married famous poet Ted Hughes. As their relationship turned to turmoil and their marriage ended, she fell into a depression just as her novel The Bell Jar was being published in England. Just weeks after the publication, Plath committed suicide. After being recognized as an accomplished poet, this text, along with her death, brought Plath to light as a cherished novelist.

The Bell Jar follows the narration of Esther Greenwood. She begins the story in New York, studying with a fashion magazine just towards the end of her college years. In this setting, Esther introduces readers to Buddy Willard. Esther dates Buddy throughout the majority of her story, but she informs readers right away that “[She] did look down on Buddy Willard” (52) because he “was a hypocrite” (52). After spending time in New York, where she clearly doesn’t fit in, Esther returns home to Boston to stay with her mother.

Esther’s glimmer of hope for the summer is shattered when she returns home to learn the news that she had not been accepted to a writing class that she has been dreaming about. She soon plunges into an intense depression at this point. Esther can’t get herself to read, write, or sleep for months on end. She begins to see a psychiatrist, but she grows wary of him when he prescribes her with a horrific shock treatment.

Esther then begins to seriously contemplate methods of suicide. She considers hanging and drowning herself. She even thinks, “One wrist, then the other wrist. Three motions, if you counted changing the razor from hand to hand. Then I would step into the tub and lie down” (147). She finally decides to take the whole bottle of sleeping pills her psychiatrist has prescribed to her. Her mother finds her in the basement unconscious and she is then sent to a city hospital.

Esther gains fame throughout Boston from her suicide attempt. After a short period of time, her scholarship benefactor Philomena Guinea decides to send her to a luxurious facility for mental rehabilitation. Here, Esther begins a process of rebirth and regrowth. She coincidentally meets a past acquaintance named Joan at this institution. Esther doesn’t like Joan very much primarily because Joan irritates her, but secondarily because she has a suspicious relationship with Buddy Willard.

Near the end of the novel, Esther decides to throw away her virginity and she sleeps with a stranger she has only known for one day. She ends up getting seriously hurt from the sexual activity and calls Joan for help. Joan, who witnesses and nurses Esther until she reaches the hospital, grows weak from the traumatizing event and decides to kill herself. Esther is deeply wounded by Joan’s death because she realizes that even though she found Joan annoying, she was her only real friend. Esther finishes out her time in the hospital and decides to go back to school. She feels revived and in touch with reality now that she has been rehabilitated, but she fears that the bell jar will close over her again someday.

The Bell Jar isn’t a plot-heavy text, but it is definitely a book worth reading. The author does a superb job of displaying the thought processes and torments one suffers through depression. She presents a chilling tone throughout the entire story by having Esther narrate her suicide in such a nonchalant manner. At one point, Esther claims, “That morning I had tried to kill myself. I had taken the silk cord of my mother’s yellow bathrobe as soon as she left for work, and, in the amber shade of the bedroom, fashioned it into a knot that slipped up and down on itself. It took me a long time to do this, because I was poor at knots and had no idea how to make a proper one” (158). Esther is so logistic about her suicide attempts; she narrates them in such a way that hits the readers hard about her seriousness. The book not only approaches suicide, but it also approaches sex in a very grave manner. Plath holds no reigns on addressing Esther’s painful loss of virginity. Plath uses diction choices like “But as Irvin drove me through the barren, snow-banked streets I felt the warm seepage let itself through the dam of the towel and my skirt and onto the car seat” (230). Relating the towels to snow makes the blood seem all the more violent and powerful. Sylvia Plath creates a vivid illustration of controversial matters in her story The Bell Jar.

The Bell Jar is an effective portrayal of the trenches of depression. Sylvia Plath uses her language and narrative style to relate this story to her own life, making it all the more powerful. The Bell Jar is an incredibly well-written piece of art.
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Product Details

Plath, Sylvia
Harper Perennial Modern Classics
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:
8.02x5.30x.70 in. .48 lbs.

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The Bell Jar (P.S.) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 288 pages Harper Perennial - English 9780060837020 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.

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