The Bell Jar By Sylvia Plath Essay

The Bell Jar By Sylvia Plath Essay

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Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is a fascinating account of a young woman’s spiral downward into a bout of “madness” and depression. The Bell Jar was published in England in early 1963, just a few weeks before Plath committed suicide. Sylvia Plath was an American poet, born and raised in Massachusetts, who later lived in England, where she married British poet Ted Hughes and had 2 children. While her poetry collections are highly celebrated, her only novel has reached the status of a modern classic, perhaps due to Plath’s tragic death at the age of 30. The novel reads as an almost fictionalized autobiographical narrative, in which Plath reveals her own experiences of the summer and fall of 1953, just under the guise of false names and details.
While Plath may have decided to write the book as a way to reflect on her past experiences, in doing so she provided insight into the mind of someone suffering a mental illness, allowing people to better understand mental illness in general. Plath’s protagonist displays a subtler, almost rationalized version of mental illness. Her thought process during suicidal ideations or distortions in reality may seem a little odd at times, but the way it is written makes it seem like a completely reasonable line of thinking, and not so blatantly irrational. The story pushes away the idea that such problems arise because someone did something morally wrong, or because they experienced extreme situations such as abject poverty, severe/disabling illness, or trauma from war. Esther (or Sylvia) seemingly had a great life, with her good academics, scholarships, the New York job, a promising career, and many other opportunities. But she still falls, showing that such mental suffering could happen to anyone, and t...


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...towards everything around her both add humor to the story, but also a kind of aversion towards the protagonist. Plath doesn’t make Esther an empathetic character, making it difficult for the audience to feel bad for her, but this might serve as an example to show how negatively the illness impacts a person’s life and personality. The only person who seems to show any empathy towards Esther is Doctor Nolan, as she understands her and works with Esther’s interests in mind rather than her own, contrary to other characters. Esther improves under Doctor Nolan, and this ties into the idea of differences in care, observed between Doctor Gordon and Nolan. While both place Esther under shock treatment, Esther only recovers under Nolan’s care, probably because she understood Esther better and did not see her as some crazy women who just needed to be shocked out of her madness.

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