Book Review: “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath


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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

As a book critic, it’s easy to become jaded, to lose the spark of surprise. But “The Bell Jar” is one of those books that remind you why you fell in love with literature in the first place.

Reading and writing this book review of “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath was like peeling back layers of a complex human soul, each page a revelation that was as unsettling as it was profound.

"The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath

Total Score: 4.4/5













What struck me most about “The Bell Jar” was its capacity to change my perspective. It’s not just a novel; it’s a mirror held up to society, reflecting our collective failings and triumphs.

This is one of the main reasons I decided to include it on my list of the best inspirational books for women.

It made me reassess my understanding of mental health and the societal pressures that can stifle individuality and ambition. A poignant reminder that even in the darkest bell jar, there’s a human being yearning to break free, and that understanding can spark the most profound changes.

Here is what you will find in this book review of “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath:

So, lets dive in and analyze each aspect of this wonderful book, page by page!


Why I choose to review this book: In the grand library of literature, few books manage to encapsulate the raw emotion and human experience as Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.” It’s a seminal work that delves deep into the complexity of the human mind, an exploration that is as timeless as it is compelling. But why review this book, you might ask?

The answer is simple: because it’s an essential read. It’s a book that breathes life into the societal pressures and expectations of women, giving voice to the silent struggles that remain just as relevant today as they were in the 1960s.

Unique Selling Points: “The Bell Jar” stands apart from other novels in its unflinching and poignant depiction of mental illness. Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel is set in a period of intense social and personal turmoil, offering a unique view of a woman’s life in the mid-20th century.

The character of Esther Greenwood, the protagonist, is a tour-de-force in literature, a complex amalgamation of ambition, intelligence, vulnerability, and despair that is rarely seen with such raw honesty.

Book Content Overview

Let’s explore the “The Bell Jar,” and unravel its genre, powerful themes, decode the plot structure, summarize the intriguing storyline, dissect captivating characters, highlight impactful quotes, and traverse the historical and cultural landscape that shaped this remarkable novel.


“The Bell Jar” can be classified as a semi-autobiographical novel, falling under the category of literary fiction. Yet, its exploration of mental health and societal pressures also makes it a standout piece in the genre of psychological fiction.

Themes and Topics

The novel explores a plethora of themes and topics including mental illness, societal expectations of women, the struggle for personal identity, and the search for authenticity in a conformist society.

The Bell Jar delves into the intricacies of depression and its associated stigma, providing an intimate look into the darker corners of human experience.

Plot Structure Analysis

“The Bell Jar” makes use of a primarily linear plot structure, with the narrative progressing chronologically, but it does include some elements of flashbacks to further develop the character and context.

This linear progression is juxtaposed with the protagonist’s spiraling descent into mental illness, creating a potent narrative tension that powerfully drives the story forward.

Book Summary

Set in the backdrop of 1950s America, “The Bell Jar” is the story of Esther Greenwood, a bright and ambitious young woman with a promising future in writing.

Protagonist lands a prestigious summer internship at a magazine in New York City, but what should have been a fulfilling and exciting experience soon turns into a disillusioning and disheartening journey.

Esther becomes increasingly disconnected from the world around her, her promising future seeming more like a suffocating bell jar.

As her mental health declines, she retreats into her own mind, a world where her reality is distorted by her depression. Esther’s struggle to reconcile her aspirations and individuality with societal expectations forms the crux of the story, offering a poignant critique of the pressures faced by women during this era.

Character Analysis

The heart of “The Bell Jar” is its compelling protagonist, Esther Greenwood. Esther is intelligent, talented, and ambitious, but she is also vulnerable, caught in the crosshairs of societal expectations and personal aspirations. Her journey throughout the novel is one of profound transformation as she grapples with her own identity and mental health.

Esther’s character resonates so deeply because she embodies the universal human struggle for self-understanding and authenticity.

Standout Quotes From the Book

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”

“If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”

“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”

Historical and Cultural Context

“The Bell Jar” is a product of its time, reflecting the cultural and societal norms of the 1950s. During this era, women were expected to conform to traditional roles, often at the expense of their individuality and aspirations.

The novel critiques these societal pressures, shedding light on the psychological impact they can have. Furthermore, it provides an intimate perspective on mental illness during a time when it was poorly understood and heavily stigmatized, making it a significant contribution to both literary and social history.

Writing Style Analysis

In this section we will examine Sylvia Plath’s distinctive writing style in “The Bell Jar” and understand the powerful narrative perspective she employs in the protagonist’s tumultuous journey.

Writing Style and Tone

Sylvia Plath’s writing style in “The Bell Jar” is a masterclass in introspective narrative. Her prose is lucid, deeply poetic, and profoundly personal, inviting readers into the innermost recesses of Esther’s mind. Plath’s diction is clear and precise, painting vivid images that linger long after the pages are turned.

The tone of the book is somber and introspective, mirroring Esther’s mental state. Despite this, moments of dark humor and sharp societal critique punctuate the narrative, making for a deeply engaging read.

Writing Technique

Plath’s writing technique is as multifaceted as her protagonist. She makes extensive use of symbolism, with the bell jar itself standing as a potent symbol for Esther’s feeling of entrapment and suffocation.

Imagery and metaphor are woven throughout the text, from the fig tree representing Esther’s paralysis in the face of numerous life paths, to the recurring motif of mirrors reflecting her fractured identity.

Plath’s ability to draw these elements together creates a narrative rich in meaning and emotional depth.

Narrative Perspective

“The Bell Jar” is written in the first person, from Esther’s perspective. This perspective is crucial to the impact of the story, allowing readers to experience Esther’s world as she perceives it.

We’re privy to her most intimate thoughts and feelings, witnessing her struggle with mental illness from the inside out. This perspective fosters a deep connection with Esther, making her journey all the more poignant and affecting.


As for pacing, “The Bell Jar” defies conventional classifications. It isn’t a fast-paced thriller, but neither is it a leisurely stroll through an idyllic world.

Instead, it moves at the pace of life itself: sometimes slow and contemplative, other times sudden and jarring.

It’s a rhythm that echoes Esther’s own fluctuations between periods of intense sensation and numb detachment, creating a narrative that is as immersive as it is impactful.

Reader’s Compass: Mapping the Journey

This section will chart the course for potential readers. Let’s take a look at the complexity of reading “The Bell Jar,” examine its profound emotional resonance, illuminate its rich educational value, and acknowledge potential sensitive content.

Ideal Reader Profile (Best for)

“The Bell Jar” will most likely appeal to readers who appreciate introspective narratives and aren’t afraid to dive deep into the psyche of a compelling protagonist. It’s a must-read for fans of literary fiction, particularly those who value stories of personal struggle and societal critique.

The book also holds considerable appeal for readers interested in feminist literature and mental health narratives. It’s not light reading, but for those ready to take the plunge, it’s an unforgettable journey.

Reading Complexity

In terms of reading difficulty, “The Bell Jar” is moderately challenging. While Plath’s writing style is clear and her language is accessible, the complexity lies in the book’s themes and emotional weight.

The narrative’s introspective nature and the depth of its subject matter require a certain level of emotional maturity and intellectual engagement from the reader. However, it’s this very depth that makes the book so rewarding.

Emotional Impact

“The Bell Jar” is a book of profound emotional impact.

Plath’s unflinching portrayal of Esther’s mental illness is heartrending and thought-provoking. It elicits deep empathy for Esther and fosters an understanding of the isolating nature of depression.

Readers may find themselves reflecting on the book’s themes long after they’ve turned the final page, a testament to its lasting emotional resonance.

Learning Potential

“The Bell Jar” offers a wealth of educational value. It provides a striking exploration of societal expectations for women in the mid-20th century, offering a historical perspective on gender roles and mental health treatment.

“The Bell Jar” illuminates the experience of mental illness in a deeply personal way, fostering empathy and understanding. As a literary work, it offers an opportunity to study Plath’s skillful use of symbolism, metaphor, and narrative structure.

Content Warnings

Please note that “The Bell Jar” contains sensitive content: it portrays mental illness, including depression and suicidal ideation, attempted suicide, electroconvulsive therapy, and sexual content.

While these themes are handled with sensitivity and sincerity, they may be distressing for some readers.

About the Author

Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer, born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932.

Known for her confessional style of writing, Plath’s work often explored themes of identity, gender, and mental health. She is widely recognized as one of the most dynamic and admired poets of the 20th century.

Despite her untimely death at the age of 30, Plath left behind a body of work that continues to be celebrated for its intense, deeply personal, and brutally honest nature. “The Bell Jar,” her only novel, is considered a classic in the literary canon.

Author’s Inspiration and Influence: “The Bell Jar” was inspired by Plath’s own experiences with mental illness and societal expectations of women. Much like her protagonist, Esther Greenwood, Plath also held a prestigious internship at a New York magazine, suffered a mental breakdown, and underwent electroconvulsive therapy.

The novel is thus often read as semi-autobiographical. The intensity and authenticity of its portrayal of Esther’s descent into mental illness is a testament to Plath’s own experiences and her ability to transform pain into powerful narrative.

Impact and Reception

Impact and Legacy: “The Bell Jar” has left a lasting legacy, inspiring countless works of literature and film that grapple with similar themes.

The novel’s influence can be seen in a broad range of literature, from young adult novels to other works of feminist literature.

It’s also been adapted into film and television, most notably the 1979 movie starring Marilyn Hassett as Esther.

Quotes and Opinions About The Book

“A still-evolving canonical work…The Bell Jar has as much to say about the times that produced it as it does about its irreducible self.” – The Guardian.

“An important novel, beautifully written, most moving in its delineation of a responsive girl’s tragic loss of self-esteem.” – Booklist.

“A brutally real and unforgettably moving reading experience.” – The New York Times.

Awards and Recognitions: Although “The Bell Jar” did not receive any formal awards at the time of its publication, its enduring relevance and impact have earned it a place among the classics of 20th-century literature.

Endorsements: The book doesn’t carry specific endorsements, but it has been praised by numerous authors and scholars over the years for its unflinching portrayal of mental illness and its critique of societal expectations for women.

Similar Books

Here are a few handpicked books that I believe will echo the profound themes and narratives you’ve encountered in this book:

  • “Girl, Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen.
  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
  • “Prozac Nation” by Elizabeth Wurtzel.

Final Verdict

“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath is a potent exploration of mental illness, societal pressures, and the struggle for self-identity. Its raw honesty and Sylvia Plath’s compelling prose make it an unforgettable read.

It’s a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today, particularly those grappling with their place in the world. This is a book that demands attention, and its rewards are manifold. It is, without a doubt, a must-read.


About the author

A literary aficionado and caffeine connoisseur, brewing stories and coffee while navigating life with my trusty feline sidekick, Mr. Spot. When I'm not lost in the pages of a novel, you'll find me hunting down the perfect pen and mug combo!