Review: “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath

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

Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel is so beautifully and heartbreakingly written. As it has been long known that Plath used her own experiences of depression and mental illness in the novel, it makes it hard at times for the reader to separate fact from fiction, and that we are reading about Esther Greenwood rather than Sylvia Plath. The novel details the downward spiral of a young and bright woman who is living it up in New York after winning a month long stint at a famous magazine publishing company. Esther and her fellow intern winners are wined and dined at exclusive restaurants and showered with expensive gifts. Despite this, Esther remains unhappy, or rather, indifferent to what is happening to her. She finally slowly falls apart once she finishes the month and returns home to discover that her application to study under a well-known writer has been rejected.

The novel follows her breakdown, suicide attempts and finally her incarceration into various psychiatric wards. I have never read Plath before, albeit a couple of poems here and there, and I am in awe at the way that Plath is able to convey the ‘feelings’ of depression to the reader. The darkness (though colour is rarely used), the helplessness and the indifference Esther feels towards the world and herself is conveyed strikingly and devastatingly clear in Plath’s, at times sparse, prose.

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