The Bell Jar Book Summary

The Bell Jar Summary & Quotes, it is the only novel written by the American writer and poet Sylvia Plath. Originally published under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas" in 1963, the novel is semi-autobiographical with the names of places and people changed. The book is often regarded as a roman à clef because the protagonist's descent into mental illness parallels Plath's experiences with what may have been clinical depression or bipolar II disorder. Plath died by suicide a month after its first United Kingdom publication.

The Bell Jar Book was published under Plath's name for the first time in 1967 and was not published in the United States until 1971, in accordance with the wishes of both Plath's husband Ted Hughes and her mother. The novel has been translated into nearly a dozen languages.

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The Bell Jar Summary

The Bell Jar Summary

In summer 1953, college student Esther Greenwood is working as a writing intern at the prestigious Ladies’ Day magazine in New York City. Despite the exciting chance to escape her small-town upbringing, Esther feels listless and depressed. She struggles to define her identity and decide what she wants to do with her life after graduation, feeling stifled by pressure to conform to society’s stereotype of womanhood. During her internship, Esther experiences a series of jarring events, including an intense bout of food poisoning and a narrow escape from a would-be rapist.

Esther reflects on her unsatisfying relationship with her boyfriend, Buddy Willard. Buddy is a practical, conservative medical student who thinks Esther’s artistic ambitions are a passing whim. Esther resents him after discovering that he slept with another woman while they were dating but expects her to be a virgin until she marries him. Buddy is currently in a sanatorium recovering from tuberculosis. He asked Esther to marry him, but Esther turned him down. She is waiting for him to recover so that she can break up with him.

Esther’s mental state continues to decline. After her internship ends and she is rejected from a prestigious summer writing course, she returns home to the suburbs of Boston, where she lives with her widowed mother. Esther and her mother have a strained relationship, as Mrs. Greenwood doesn’t understand her daughter’s unconventional ambitions or her mental illness. At home, Esther falls deeper into depression and begins to plan her suicide, making several unsuccessful attempts. She visits a psychiatrist named Dr. Gordon, who prescribes her a course of electroshock therapy. The treatment is botched, leaving Esther traumatized. Shortly afterward she makes a serious suicide attempt by overdosing on her mother’s sleeping pills but survives and is admitted to an inpatient psychiatric facility.

At the mental hospital, Esther is treated by Dr. Nolan, a female psychiatrist who is much more understanding and receptive than Dr. Gordon. Esther describes her depression as a suffocating “bell jar” which descends on her and cuts her off from the rest of the world. Dr. Nolan prescribes Esther electroshock therapy and insulin treatments as well as talk therapy, which helps her start down the road to recovery. Esther also makes emotional breakthroughs with Dr. Nolan and begins to see her as a mother figure.

Esther meets a fellow patient named Joan Gilling, a girl who attended college with her and also dated Buddy Willard. Esther dislikes Joan but is fascinated by her, seeing Joan as a mirror of herself.

Dr. Nolan writes Esther a prescription for birth control. Esther embarks on a quest to lose her virginity, hoping that the experience will free her from societal expectations and help her gain a sense of identity. After having sex with a man named Irwin, she hemorrhages and goes to the emergency room. Still, she feels satisfied to have freed herself from the misogynistic double standard surrounding casual sex.

Shortly after Esther loses her virginity, Joan hangs herself. Esther attends Joan’s funeral and speculates on her own future, wondering whether her depression will return someday to shut her back inside the bell jar. Buddy visits Esther at the hospital. His sickness has matured him, and they both recognize their incompatibility and end their relationship. The novel concludes with Esther waiting for a release interview with a panel of her doctors, who will decide whether she can be released from the hospital and go back to college.

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The Bell Jar Quotes

  • “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
  • “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”
  • “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, "This is what it is to be happy.”
  • “The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”
  • “If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I'm neurotic as hell. I'll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.”
  • “The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it.”
  • “There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.”
  • “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”
  • “I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”
  • “because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”
  • “I was supposed to be having the time of my life.”
  • “I didn't know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of the throat and I'd cry for a week.”
  • “I couldn’t see the point of getting up. I had nothing to look forward to.”
  • “I felt wise and cynical as all hell.”
  • “The floor seemed wonderfully solid. It was comforting to know I had fallen and could fall no farther.”
  • “If you love her", I said, "you'll love somebody else someday.”
  • “The trouble about jumping was that if you didn't pick the right number of storeys, you might still be alive when you hit bottom.”
  • “I wanted to be where nobody I knew could ever come.”
  • “I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow.”

Questions about The Bell Jar Plot

What is the main message of Bell Jar? The Bell Jar addresses the question of socially acceptable identity. It examines Esther's "quest to forge her own identity, to be herself rather than what others expect her to be." Esther is expected to become a housewife, and a self-sufficient woman, without the options to achieve independence.

What is the mental illness in The Bell Jar? “The Bell Jar” represents the struggles of anxiety, gender roles/expectations, and depression that can be applied to current youth today. Esther Greenwood's bell jar, a symbol for oppression, despair, and the feeling of being trapped by not only your circumstances, but yourself.

Is The Bell Jar a happy ending? Answer and Explanation: The Bell Jar has a happy ending insomuch as the protagonist decides to abandon her previous thoughts of suicide and goes back to school. Esther is better equipped to handle her depression, and she is beginning to exercise control over her life.

Why is The Bell Jar so great? one of the great achievements of The Bell Jar is that it makes real the subtle distinctions between a distorted viewpoint and the distortions inherent in what it sees. Convention may contribute to Esther's insanity, but she never loses her awareness of the irrationality of convention.

What kind of story is The Bell Jar? Sylvia Plath's only published novel, The Bell Jar (1963), is an exploration of mental illness and the pressure of social expectations on women in 1950s America.

What does the blood in The Bell Jar symbolize? The presence of blood suggests a ritual sacrifice: Esther will sacrifice her body for peace of mind, and sacrifice her virginity for the sake of experience. The presence of blood also indicates the frightening violence of Esther's experiences. For her, transformations involve pain and suffering, not joy.

Is Bell Jar a sad story? For all that it is considered a "sad book" by a "tragic author," The Bell Jar revolts against its own reputation: it is sad, yes, but also fiercely funny and defiantly hopeful. Plath's own fate should not undermine the message of her book: that it is possible to leave the bell jar.

Who does Esther lose her virginity to Bell Jar? As Esther improves, the hospital officials grant her permission to leave the hospital from time to time. During one of these excursions, she finally loses her virginity with a math professor named Irwin. She begins bleeding profusely and has to go to the emergency room.

What is the last line of The Bell Jar? "The eyes and faces all turned themselves towards me, and guiding myself by them, as by a magical thread, I stepped into the room".

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