Book Review: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

*Post edited 4/5/2020 for character name error. POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Prompt: A book about mental health Brief synopsi...

*Post edited 4/5/2020 for character name error.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Prompt: A book about mental health

Brief synopsis: After returning home from a summer scholarship in New York, Esther discovers she wasn't chosen for the competitive writing class she was hoping to enroll in. Instead she plans to write a novel. But her life isn't quite what she thought it would be, and maybe she doesn't truly know who she is or what she wants in life. This novel is a haunting look at mental health in the 1950s through Esther's journey of a mental breakdown.

Reading The Bell Jar was an entirely different experience than I expected it to be. It's not that I dislike classics, but sometimes they're pretty tough to get through for some reason or other. I honestly wasn't sure what the book was about until I got into it, but I was aware the focus of the story was on mental health. The Bell Jar was very modern in a lot of ways, but it's definitely a sign of the times in more ways than one.

Plath's depictions are often racist when referring to Esther looking sickly or dirty. Esther's actions toward a Black waiter in the asylum was insulting. Again, a sign of the times - but just because it was a different time doesn't make racism "okay." I felt the book was also full of fat-shaming and anti-LGBTQisms.

The story was haunting in its portrait of asylums in what I'm sure was a fairly accurate portrayal of 1950s mental health "cures." At times I wasn't sure if the truth of the story was actually what was happening or Esther's brain playing tricks on it. The issues of mental illness were posed in a beautifully written way and were quite scary to read.

I will say the prose was beautifully written and at times poetic, but the story was anti-climatic and the entire book leading up to Esther going back home at summer's end was irrelevant and seemed to be from an entirely different story than the rest of the book. Many of the different issues in the book were never fully explained or wrapped up and I wasn't thrilled with the novel overall. It didn't quite live up to the expectations people have presented about how fantastic the book is, and I felt it was quite a problematic story.

Sue me, but I wasn't a fan.

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  1. the protagonist wasnt called edith

    1. I appreciate you calling out my mistake. I was likely reading another book at that point with a character with that name, and just accidentally used the wrong name in the post. Either way, the rudeness was uncalled for.