THE BELL JAR- SYLVIA PLATH (1963)

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

 

The Bell Jar is an unusual novel bottled with every emotion you can think of.

19-year-old Esther Greenwood is brilliant, talented beautiful and extremely self-critical. For a book written in 1963, Esther is a very compelling character. She lives in a society where girls are identified not on their own personalities and talents but in terms of their relationships to men and the society. We learn that she is a blend of a studious student and a fashion conscious girl, an innocent girl and an adventurous one too, because why not?!  She is trapped in an inner turmoil and unable to pick a role and settle. Unlike her friends and almost every other girl of that time, she does not want to be classified. She wants to break free and soar.

“I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn’t get myself to react. I 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.”

We learn about her struggles in her early life that moulded her into who she was. She dates a boy who doesn’t value the things she loves, literature and poetry. This makes her question marriage and the purpose of it. In all her confusion she has nobody to encourage her, but many to restrict her. The story progresses by revealing every human side of Esther. Trapped inside her Bell Jar, she is unable to recognize her true identity. As the iron grip of society chokes her, she eventually suffers a mental breakdown and is subjected to the same forces that make her ill in the first place. As in every such case, her symptoms are treated but the problem is not.

In the 1970s, American literature did not have many female heroines who spoke their mind. That is one of the reasons that made The Bell Jar so popular. Throughout the book, we constantly feel the urge for her to survive. In a time period before women’s liberation and major social movements, Esther Greenwood chose to stand out and question the norms of society. In spite of her illness and other difficulties, she doesn’t come off as a pitiable character, but more of a proud fighter and the story being open-ended; I’d like to think that the Bell Jar has lifted and Esther’s life changed for the better.

“There ought, I thought, to be a ritual for being born twice- patched, retreaded and approved for the road.”

The Bell Jar is the only novel written by the American poet, Sylvia Plath. It is considered by some as partly autobiographical, Esther representing the darker side of Plath described in the most intense way. It is extremely realistic and with her fierce, direct style of writing, emotion bursts forth from every word. It is a complex story told simply, but glazed with poetry,irony, humour and sharpness.

Although it is a great book, I wouldn’t read it twice because I find Sylvia’s style more suited to poetry than prose.

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

My rating for this book-  3.5/5 stars  

Watercolour and pastels on paper.

20 Comments Add yours

  1. I Spread Words says:

    3.5… That’s a bit harsh, Leha. She was one of a kind especially in the 1970’s!

    Anyway, good review. Lots of info. Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leha says:

      Thank you for your honest comment. do love her writing. But to read a book after reading her excellent poetry, didn’t appeal much 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Samuel says:

    Leha how frank can you be! I am now curious to read some of Sylvia Plath’s poems. Your illumination is cute with vibrant colours, could have looked more proficient with more symmetry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leha says:

      Thank you. I will work on it!

      Like

  3. pratikshya2 says:

    I so wish she had lived a few years more to write. But then her sufferings were terrible too. I haven’t read this book yet, I have had this long in my TBR. I read your review after Shalini’s this April, I am convinced I need to grab it soon. Love the beautiful artwork too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leha says:

      Thank you:)
      Yes, She lived a short life, but quite an eventful one. She lives on to this day. Hope you enjoy the book. I haven’t read Shalini’s review. Could you link it for me?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Leha says:

        Thank you:)

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! I did actually read this book for a second time and loved it even more, if that’s possible. But I agree with your thoughts on Plath’s writing style- she definitely writes some good poetry, and perhaps that’s why she only wrote one book. Her prose style isn’t for everyone, but I just love everything about this book! Great post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leha says:

      Wow am glad you liked it. Didn’t know many people who read this book!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Me neither, it’s great when I find another person who has read and reviewed it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Mayuri6 says:

    I just bought the Bell Jar last week. Glad I came across your well balanced review before I started reading it. Your views have got me curious to start reading it soon. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leha says:

      It’s a great book, you’dd definitely enjoy it:)

      Like

  6. This book is just something else. Loved your piece on it. It’s one of my favourite books.
    [@samantha_rjsdr] from
    Whimsical Compass

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leha says:

      That’s an apt description. It is something else! Thanks for stopping by:)

      Like

  7. writenlive says:

    Just loved your comprehensive and analytical review of The Bell Jar. It’s a brave story of a really strong woman inspite of her indecisive views and her mental illness.
    Esther is fiercely independent and questions every norm of the society. It is such a trailblazer of a book for that time.
    I wouldn’t want to read the book again, inspite of the lovely language because I found the mood to be very melancholic.
    Another thought I have had over the past few months after I read the book: would I recommend this book to a man? Would the male perspective change after reading this very feminist book?

    Like

    1. Leha says:

      Thank you very much. And that’s an interesting point! Now this question makes me wonder too. Some may find it coming off too strong I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Have always wanted to read it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leha says:

      Oh, you should. It is promising

      Like

  9. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
    is in my blog: https://leocblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/books-id-like-to-read
    I would love you leave a short Comment there about the book.
    Thank you,
    Leonardo Cardillo
    https://www.linkedin.com/in/leonardocardillo

    Liked by 1 person

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