Even though The Bell Jar deals with subjects that I typically find unsettling, I really enjoyed this novel. On the surface it explores a girl's decent into insanity and the harsh treatments she underwent in an attempt to bring her back to normalcy. The Bell Jar critiques the expectations placed on young women in 1950's and early 1960's America. It also highlights the social and political unrest that was prevalent throughout the decade.
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 as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state.The reason The Bell Jar works is because Plath subtly introduces the onset of Ester's mental breakdown and then presents it in a way that makes it seem logical. We aren't watching a girl's decent into insanity from the outside, but rather following her through it. Maybe Plath is able to achieve this point of view since for her, this is not a fictionalized account of a girl going mad, but rather a semi-autobiographical take on her own insanity. (Plath committed suicide one month after The Bell Jar was published in the UK.)
Ester is one of the most honest, self-deprecating narrators I've read in a long time. There are many passages one could quote from this book, but I prefer to take it in as a whole; The Bell Jar examines the influence gender roles and their expectations have on one's identity, and the downward spiral that can ensue when those expectations contradict one another.
Publisher: Faber Firsts, 1963