Well that was depressing…at least that’s what most people tend to think of it. As a psychology professional in my other life, I found her novel to be a fascinating and accurate depiction of one’s descent into mental illness and subsequent suicide attempt.
The Bell Jar is considered a roman a clef (French for “novel with a key”)-a novel about real life in the form of fiction. Sylvia Plath famously suffered from clinical depression and ultimately committed suicide, so she clearly knew from experience how it must feel.
But this novel isn’t just about depression. It takes place in the 50’s Mad Men era where women had certain expectations put upon them, with little choice as to how they would lead their lives. The main protagonist, Esther Greenwood, felt trapped. She did not know what she wanted to do as a career with so few options for women at the time. She did not want to be stuck married to a man she did not like, and become pregnant without a choice of her own. The Bell Jar is as much a statement on the struggles that women faced at the time when they felt their decisions were made for them and their choices were limited as it is a statement on depression. What’s more, the struggle that women faced and depression were undoubtedly linked.
No wonder this book is a classic. Not only meaningful culturally and historically, Plath’s writing is haunting, with beautiful metaphors. Her style is easy and accessible, like a fucked up friend who confides in you her deepest and darkest fears. Though depression and suicide is not at all funny, her storytelling is almost darkly humorous (at least to me!). Am I the only one?
If you’ve already read The Bell Jar, what feelings did it evoke in you? Were you able to identify with it? Did it help you to understand the struggle of someone with severe depression and suicidal thoughts? Did it give you insight into what it may have been like for a young woman in that era?
With these questions in mind, this book is a great conversation starter for men and women alike. Please comment and share your thoughts. The next book I’ll review is Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath by Kate Moses. If you liked The Bell Jar and are curious about just how semi-autobiographical it is, this book should be illuminating.