The Bell Jar: A Mini-Review

Sylvia Plath, known for her darkness in literature, wrote this semi-autobiographical work before her death in 1963 as Esther Greenwood. During her college years, she lands a summer internship working for a big-name fashion magazine. Esther, talented and ambitious, finds little joy in working for this magazine.

Plath details her thought process several times throughout the book, leading the reader through the spiral of her depression. She begins with, “I started adding up all the things I couldn’t do. I began with cooking…I don’t know shorthand either. This meant I couldn’t get a good job after college. My list grew longer..I was a terrible dancer. I couldn’t carry a tune. I had no sense of balance..I couldn’t ride a horse or ski..I couldn’t speak German or read Hebrew or write Chinese.” She then acknowledges that she was successful when it came to winning scholarships, but knew those days were coming to a screeching halt. Plath found much of her worth in her academic scholarship- and there was much competition, even in the ‘50s.

When she returned home to her mother the summer after her internship was over, she learned that she was not accepted into a writing course. This deepened her depression; she did not sleep for days on end, but stayed in bed. “I couldn’t see the point of getting up. I had nothing to look forward to.”

Esther then began what was years of psychiatric treatment, beginning with ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) or “shock treatment.” This was followed by inpatient hospitalizations and various residential treatment facilities. Plath tragically ended her life at the young age of 30 via carbon monoxide poisoning from her oven.

This memoir of sorts is quite striking, as it highlights the pressure that Esther faced in the 50s, and young girls and women still face this today. What does this narrative mean for us today? What impact do you see your thoughts having on your feelings, behaviors, and overall attitude? It was Margaret Thatcher who said, “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.” (Please note that I am not suggesting that Plath’s depression was merely because of her negative thinking, as certainly there were other factors at work—loss of her father, family issues, genetics, etc.)