ENTERTAINMENT: Plath Addresses Mental Illness In Classic Novel “The Bell Jar”
By Valeria Araujo – Editor-in-Chief
In the 1950s, on a late night partying in jazz-ridden Manhattan, is where readers are introduced to the main character in “The Bell Jar,” Esther Greenwood. Working at an internship at a magazine in New York she sticks out like a sore thumb – tall, pale, and awkward. She is seemingly ahead of her time because she is more interested in academics and a career. Esther takes on a new world where she learns things about herself that change her life forever.
“The Bell Jar” is a gripping tale of this young woman’s downward spiral into a pool of mental illness. Although it is a piece of fiction, some argue it is also a tool in showing the reader a glimpse into author Sylvia Plath’s own struggles with her mental illness. The novel is relatable in the sense that it is timeless because mental illness happens to people in similar ways today.
There are many graphic but tasteful images given to the reader about the happenings of Esther’s depression. Although still taboo, it’s more open to treatment and discussion than in another school-read classic, “Catcher in the Rye,” where Holden is forced to go through it alone until he goes far off the rocker. Plath doesn’t sugar coat what happens in the facilities that Esther is treated in, which makes “The Bell Jar” an evocative and interesting read.
All of the characters are also extremely well-rounded. They all have shortcomings that can bitter the taste of them and other qualities that might sweeten the deal. For example, Buddy Willard, a former love interest for Esther, has a tendency to think he knows more than the person he’s talking to. Esther realizes he was better from afar. He also had some very sexist views about marriage, but we it can chalk it up to it being the 1950s. Then there is Doreen, who seems like the average party girl, but when Esther decides she doesn’t want to be associated with her during their time in New York, she never loses the kindness she always held for Esther (even if some of it was for personal gain).
One problem with the novel is that while the language is very eloquent, some of the parts describing LGBT ideas are extremely dated and can deter the reader’s focus if only for a second. But other than that, “The Bell Jar “helps readers understand mental illness a little bit more and helps them realize that things can get better after a severe rough patch.
This beautifully written, depressing, yet motivational novel is a must-read classic that will continue to haunt readers minds for years to come.
Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars