The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: Thoughts

It’s hard to review The Bell Jar so I’m not going to try. It ain’t entertainment. It’s a book about a girl with depression who ends up institutionalized. I don’t think that’s a spoiler since most people know what it’s about (and it’s in the blurbs on the back cover). It’s how she gets there that’s the story.

Esther Greenwood looks like a girl who has it all: a job in New York City, parties, a handsome doctor beau. From the outside, Esther’s life is perfect, but for her it’s anything but. Esther sees the world differently. She has no ambition, no lust for life, and little love for the people she knows. The reader experiences what Esther does, sees what she sees, and it’s a gloomy world.

Reading The Bell Jar is an emotional experience. I found it heavy reading, not the writing, but the atmosphere. I remember seeing a commercial for some new anti-depression drug, where the actors sat in their housecoats looking lethargic. I thought to myself, “This commercial is making me depressed.” That’s how reading The Bell Jar made me feel. I don’t think a book can make someone depressed, but it can give you a good idea of how it feels when done right. Plath knew her stuff, obviously as she was depressed herself.

I had to remind myself not to judge Esther harshly. Yes, she does have opportunities that most people can only dream of having, but she is sick and can’t help how she feels. I never thought of her as whiny. I’ve read plenty of characters who do that all too well. She doesn’t complain, she just doesn’t give a fig.

The “care” Esther gets at first is horrible. I can’t imagine that making anyone well. Things improve later on but still the drugs available today weren’t then. I wonder if that would have made a difference for Esther. Reading about Esther’s experience made me appreciate my own mental health.

If there is anything funny about The Bell Jar, it’s Esther’s pursuit of losing her virginity. Girl goes at getting that done like it’s her job. Most of the guys come off pretty terribly in the book. Sorry, dudes.
I hadn’t read The Bell Jar before. This was my first time. If you haven’t read it yet, make sure you do at some point.


  1. It does sound like you have to be in the right mood to read this. Depression is hard to understand if you've never experienced it.

  2. Yeah, I really feel like I need to read this book but also think I need to be in the right mood to do so.

  3. I really liked this one, though "like" feels like the wrong word. I respect this one! How about that? I also need to revisit it. It's been a lot of years.

  4. I haven't read The Bell Jar, yet, but I do plan to. I recently read Pain, Parties, Work - a NF title about Sylvia Plath that is apparently pretty much the nonfiction version of The Bell Jar and it intrigued me. I just need to locate my copy. It's probably still boxed up, somewhere. Great review!

  5. I had to read this book for high school and as someone who's prone to depression, this book did make me feel like I was going crazy along with Esther. I eventually put it down and finished it with Cliff's Notes for my own sanity.

  6. I have read Bell Jar long ago, and really liked it. I wonder what that says about me? that possibly depression lurks....I read it as a 19 year old, so now that I'm much older, I want to go back and re-read it and see what I find it now. I enjoyed your thoughts, especially about the dudes and the losing of her virginity - Esther did try so hard to lose it!


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