Updated: Feb 15, 2021
by Felicity Acevedo
Sylvia Plath’s first and only novel, The Bell Jar, was published fifty-eight years ago following her death on February 11th, which happens to be today. An eye-opening semi-autobiography that captures the reader's attention with a young woman’s journey to
surviving a summer internship in New York City while battling severe mental health issues. When the novel was originally published, Plath used her pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, and it didn't publish under her own name until 1966. The protagonist, Esther Greenwood, also plays around with the idea of publishing a novel about her life under a different name.
Esther Greenwood, along with a dozen other girls, has been given the opportunity to explore the heart of New York as an editor for a prominent fashion magazine. Greenwood brings the reader along on her path to greatness, but just as her dreams are at arms reach, her ambition is quickly lost. Her attempts to stay afloat in the crowded city drift away along with her passion for writing. Esther soon drops out of college and is faced with challenging decisions due to her parent’s worries that her mental health is plummeting (which it is).
Greenwood’s time at a psychiatric facility only worsens the state she is in mentally as she endures physical suffering. Following the death of someone close to her, she returns to college and just as you think she is recovering, you will once again feel the pain Esther carries with her.
In 1977, the novel was banned for some time because of its coverage of sexuality, suicide, and rejected ideas of societal norms. The novel greatly depicts the expectations society has on women such as marriage and the birth of a child, two path’s Esther was not interested in embarking on. Plath completely shut down the idea that women need to get married and become a mother which was an infrequent idea to talk about during the time it was published.
The Bell Jar is 244 pages of truthfulness and realism that will continue to affect people throughout time as it tackles issues people all around the world are still faced with today. Esther’s raw emotion and thinking will force the reader to be confronted with the realness of mental health and the role women are set out to play in society. Although the book was written more than fifty years ago, it could have easily been written today due to its present relevance.