The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is a must-read for every budding feminist and lover of literature. Sylvia Plath’s vivid imagery paints the picture of her world using words alone. The Bell Jar focuses on the life of Esther Greenwood, a girl who seemingly has it all. With a scholarship to a prestigious university, an all expense paid summer internship opportunity in NYC, and a handsome doctor boyfriend, Esther’s life seems effortless and fulfilling.
Yet, something is missing. Esther struggles with constant disillusionment. First slowly and then all at once, she spirals downhill into a well of her own lonely thoughts. Esther fights against stereotypical gender norms, questioning why she must settle down, get married, and have a family. In fact, babies disgust her to the core. Esther also battles with the idea of virginity, and the unfairness in the expectations of men versus women. She questions why society celebrates male prowess and their ‘expertise’ while it simultaneously shames women who ‘soil themselves’ and their reputation.
In a world that tells Esther that, as a woman, she must act one way, she rebels against it totally and completely. In one chapter Esther comments, “When they asked me what I wanted to be I said I didn’t know.”Oh, sure you know,” the photographer said. “She wants,” said Jay Cee wittily, “to be everything.”
This quote highlights Esther’s struggle with societal limitations of what it means to be a woman. Her finance’s mom, Mrs. Willard, represents everything Esther bucks against. The quintessential homemaker, Mrs. Willard cares for her children, acts polite, and dotes on her husband. The thought of this drives her to the brink of madness.
This book deals with issues normally not discussed in pleasant conversation. Suicide, mental illness, reputation, gender roles, and disillusionment are just a few of the many themes featured in The Bell Jar. Though not the happiest of novels, this book grapples with many topics within the feminist agenda: birth control, gender roles, virginity, and more. The Bell Jar book will not only satisfy your literary craving, but also reveal the systemic problems of 20th century society and it’s treatment of women.