I picked up The Bell Jar for a few different reasons.
First, because a Facebook friend frequently shares quotes from Sylvia Plath that resonate with me. Second, because February 11th was the anniversary of Syliva Plath's death. And third, because it is one of those classics that I have never had occasion to read.
I have, at various points in my life, known great depths of despair that I have had to struggle mightily to overcome.
Going into this novel I was expecting it to be a downer, so when it lived up to its reputation in that regard I was not surprised. What did surprise me was how innocently it began. Esther Greenwood was a college student who had dreams of being a writer and had won a one month internship at a popular magazine over summer break. This is where the book begins. But as her internship progressed we began to see that some of her reactions were not typical of a girl her age. She had plans for her own life - big plans - that didn't include what was expected of her. When her internship ended she went home only to find her remaining summer plans had not come to fruition throwing off her life plan. Her sense of self suffered a major blow. This is when she really went off the rails.
As I was reading this book, knowing just a little bit about Sylvia Plath, I felt that this was actually a biography rather than fiction. It was only after I finished the book that I found it actually was semi-autobiographical. I didn't find it as depressing as I expected to, but I did find it sad. What I mean by that is that rather than being drawn into Sylvia/Esther's personal demons I was able to distance myself enough to read this book objectively, so while I empathized with her I did not suffer for her. Yet I can see how many would.
I thought I would struggle with this book because of the depth of emotion so many seem to find in it. I also thought those aspects would make it have a powerful impact on me. Neither was the case - and that could just be due to where I was at emotionally in my own life at the time of reading - which is often the case.
I do think this book is a good history lesson in the way mental illness was treated in the time period, which was quite a sad state of affairs. And I do know that many people find read it a powerful and amazing experience. I guess I'm just not one of them.
Have you read The Bell Jar, or any other books where mental illness plays a primary role? How did you react?
What are your thoughts?
Sylvia Plath's shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel of a woman falling into the grips of insanity.
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