Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath's only novel, is a famous exploration of mental illness and recovery, made more famous by the author's suidice only weeks after its first publication in 1963.  It is a thinly disguised autobiography, from an earlier period of Plath's life during which she had a breakdown.

This is a compelling book, the disintegration of Esther Greenwood is beautifully rendered in Plath's prose as she moves further and further into depression and "madness,"  and eventually, into recovery.

The Bell Jar is a feminist landmark, Plath's reflections on work, marriage, motherhood, and a creative life, issues that Plath herself never resolved in her own life and work:
"And I knew that in spite of all the roses and kisses and restaurant dinners a man showered on a woman before he married her, what he secretly wanted when the wedding service ended was for her to flatten out underneath his feet like Mrs. Willard's kitchen mat.  [....]  So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about numb as a slave in some private, totalitarian state."
The Bell jar is a testament of illness (and recovery), though the recovery part is cast into shadow by Plath's own suicide.  I just couldn't get past my "real life" knowledge about her as a person, especially at the end of the book, and knowing the novel is basically autobiographical.  

The Bell Jar is a coming of age story, and a finely drawn portait of its time, the crushing expectations of women, and of creative expectations of the self.  It's a poetic and tragic read.  Books like this take it out of you, but are worth it.  I'm not really a poetry person, but have added Plath's work to my to be read pile.  It's just ultimately tragic that she felt so desolate that she took her own life. 


An e-read on Kindle for iPad.

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