The Bell Jar
  • The Bell Jar
  • The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar

4.3 433
by Sylvia Plath

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A Special Paperback Edition to Commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of Sylvia Plath's Remarkable Novel

Sylvia Plath's shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for

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A Special Paperback Edition to Commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of Sylvia Plath's Remarkable Novel

Sylvia Plath's shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

Editorial Reviews

Atlantic Monthly
An enchanting book. The author wears her scholarship with grace, and the amazing story she has to tell is recounted with humor and understanding.
New York Times Book Review
Esther Greenwood's account of her years in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing - [this] is not a potboiler, nor a series of ungrateful caricatures; it is literature.
Billboard Magazine
McDormand gives a sensitive, intimate performance. Herdry, ironic tone, covering up for an undercurrent of fear, perfectly capturesthe character of Esther.
Frances McDormand's spellbinding.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Frances McDormand is a fabulous reader, alternating between the narrator's breathy whisper and the other characters' stronger personalities.
New York Times
Esther Greenwood's account of her years in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing....[This] is not a potboiler, nor a series of ungrateful caricatures: it is literature.
Book World
The first-person narrative fixes us there, in the doctor's office, in the asylum, in the madness, with no reassuring vacations when we can keep company with the sane and listen to their lectures.
Christian Science Monitor
The narrator simply describes herself as feeling very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel. The in-between moment is just what Miss Plath's poetry does catch brilliantly—the moment poised on the edge of chaos.
"By turns funny, harrowing, crude, ardent and artless. Its most notable quality is an astonishing immediacy, like a series of snapshots taken at high noon."
"A special poignance...a special force, a humbling power, because it shows the vulnerability of people of hope and good will."
Robert Scholes
"A fine novel. As bitter and remorseless as her last poems -- the kind of book Salinger's Fanny have written about herself ten years later, if she had spent those years in hell." --New York Times Book Review

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.72(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. I'm stupid about executions. The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that's all there was to read about in the papers--goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway. It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn't help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves.

I thought it must be the worst thing in the world.

New York was bad enough. By nine in the morning the fake, country-wet freshness that somehow seeped in overnight evaporated like the tail end of a sweet dream. Mirage-gray at the bottom of their granite canyons, the hot streets wavered in the sun, the car tops sizzled and glittered, and the dry, cindery dust blew into my eyes and down my throat.

I kept hearing about the Rosenbergs over the radio and at the office till I couldn't get them out of my mind. It was like the first time I saw a cadaver. For weeks afterward, the cadaver's head--or what there was left of it--floated up behind my eggs and bacon at breakfast and behind the face of Buddy Willard, who was responsible for my seeing it in the first place, and pretty soon I felt as though I were carrying that cadaver's head around with me on a string, like some black, noseless balloon stinking of vinegar.

(I knew something was wrong with me that summer, because all I could think about was the Rosenbergs and how stupid I'd been to buy all those uncomfortable, expensive clothes, hanging limp as fish in my closet, and how all the little successes I'dtotted up so happily at college fizzled to nothing outside the slick marble and plate-glass fronts along Madison Avenue.)

I was supposed to be having the time of my life.

I was supposed to be the envy of thousands of other college girls just like me all over America who wanted nothing more than to be tripping about in those same size-seven patent leather shoes I'd bought in Bloomingdale's one lunch hour with a black patent leather belt and black patent leather pocketbook to match. And when my picture came out in the magazine the twelve of us were working on--drinking martinis in a skimpy, imitation silver-lame bodice stuck on to a big, fat cloud of white tulle, on some Starlight Roof, in the company of several anonymous young men with all-American bone structures hired or loaned for the occasion--everybody would think I must be having a real whirl.

Look what can happen in this country, they'd say. A girl lives in some out-of-the-way town for nineteen years, so poor she can't afford a magazine, and then she gets a scholarship to college and wins a prize here and a prize there and ends up steering New York like her own private car.

Only I wasn't steering anything, not even myself. I just bumped from my hotel to work and to parties and from parties to my hotel and back to work like a numb trolleybus. I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn't get myself to react. (I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.)

There were twelve of us at the hotel.

We had all won a fashion magazine contest, by writing essays and stories and poems and fashion blurbs, and as prizes they gave us jobs in New York for a month, expenses paid, and piles and piles of free bonuses, like ballet tickets and passes to fashion shows and hair stylings at a famous expensive salon and chances to meet successful people in the field of our desire and advice about what to do with our particular complexions.

I still have the makeup kit they gave me, fitted out for a person with brown eyes and brown hair: an oblong of brown mascara with a tiny brush, and a round basin of blue eye-shadow just big enough to dab the tip of your finger in, and three lipsticks ranging from red to pink, all cased in the same little gilt box with a mirror on one side. I also have a white plastic sunglasses case with colored shells and sequins and a green plastic starfish sewed onto it.

I realized we kept piling up these presents because it was as good as free advertising for the firms involved, but I couldn't be cynical. I got such a kick out of all those free gifts showering on to us. For a long time afterward I hid them away, but later, when I was all right again, I brought them out, and I still have them around the house. I use the lipsticks now and then, and last week I cut the plastic starfish off the sunglasses case for the baby to play with.

So there were twelve of us at the hotel, in the same wing on the same floor in single rooms, one after the other, and it reminded me of my dormitory at college. It wasn't a proper hotel--I mean a hotel where there are both men and women mixed about here and there on the same floor.

This hotel--the Amazon--was for women only, and they were mostly girls my age with wealthy parents who wanted to be sure their daughters would be living where men couldn't get at them and deceive them; and they were all going to posh secretarial schools like Katy Gibbs, where they had to wear hats and stockings and gloves to class, or they had just graduated from places like Katy Gibbs and were secretaries to executives and junior executives and simply hanging around in New York waiting to get married to some career man or other.

These girls looked awfully bored to me. I saw them on the sunroof, yawning and painting their nails and trying to keep up their Bermuda tans, and they seemed bored as hell. I talked with one of them, and she was bored with yachts and bored with flying around in airplanes and bored with skiing in Switzerland at Christmas and bored with the men in Brazil.

Girls like that make me sick. I'm so jealous I can't speak. Nineteen years, and I hadn't been out of New England except for this trip to New York. It was my first big chance, but here I was, sitting back and letting it run through my fingers like so much water.

I guess one of my troubles was Doreen.

I'd never known a girl like Doreen before. Doreen came from a society girls' college down South and had bright white hair standing out in a cotton candy fluff round her head and blue eyes like transparent agate marbles, hard and polished and just about indestructible, and a mouth set in a sort of perpetual sneer. I don't mean a nasty sneer, but an amused, mysterious sneer, as if all the people around her were pretty silly and she could tell some good jokes on them if she wanted to.

Doreen singled me out right away. She made me feel I was that much sharper than the others, and she really was wonderfully funny. She used to sit next to me at the conference table, and when the visiting celebrities were talking she'd whisper witty sarcastic remarks to me under her breath.

Her college was so fashion conscious, she said, that all the girls had pocketbook covers made out of the same material as their dresses, so each time they changed their clothes they had a matching pocketbook. This kind of detail impressed me. It suggested a whole life of marvelous, elaborate decadence that attracted me like a magnet.

The only thing Doreen ever bawled me out about was bothering to get my assignments in by a deadline.

"What are you sweating over that for?" Doreen lounged on my bed in a peach silk dressing gown, filing her long, nicotine-yellow nails with an emery board, while I typed up the draft of an interview with a best-selling novelist.

That was another thing--the rest of us had starched cotton summer nighties and quilted housecoats, or maybe terry-cloth robes that doubled as beachcoats, but Doreen wore these full-length nylon and lace jobs you could half see through, and dressing gowns the color of skin, that stuck to her by some kind of electricity. She had an interesting, slightly sweaty smell that reminded me of those scallopy leaves of sweet fern you break off and crush between your fingers for the musk of them.

"You know old Jay Cee won't give a damn if that story's in tomorrow or Monday." Doreen lit a cigarette and let the smoke flare slowly from her nostrils so her eyes were veiled. "Jay Cee's ugly as sin," Doreen went on coolly. "I bet that old husband of hers turns out all the lights before he gets near her or he'd puke otherwise."

Jay Cee was my boss, and I liked her a lot, in spite of what Doreen said. She wasn't one of the fashion magazine gushers with fake eyelashes and giddy jewelry. Jay Cee had brains, so her plug-ugly looks didn't seem to matter. She read a couple of languages and knew all the quality writers in the business.

I tried to imagine Jay Cee out of her strict office suit and luncheon-duty hat and in bed with her fat husband, but I just couldn't do it. I always had a terribly hard time trying to imagine people in bed together.

Jay Cee wanted to teach me something, all the old ladies I ever knew wanted to teach me something, but I suddenly didn't think they had anything to teach me. I fitted the lid on my typewriter and clicked it shut.

Doreen grinned. "Smart girl."

Somebody tapped at the door.

"Who is it?" I didn't bother to get up.

The Bell Jar. Copyright © by Sylvia Plath. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Bell Jar 4.3 out of 5 based on 2 ratings. 433 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Bell Jar by Slyvia Plath is a troubling look into a young girls struggle with depression during the 1950's. The book begins with Esther, the main character, and her experience during an internship in New York. She finds herself unhappy with what is happening in her life. Her unhappiness escalates quickly and continues throughout the book. The book gives a clear depiction of how depression can consume your life. Throughout the novel, Esther's slowly grows and pulls you as a reader in. Plath's description of Esther's decent into "the bell jar" is chilling; it almost seems that her depression is logical. The bell jar being Esther's feeling of being trapped and suffocated. Soon Esther finds herself unhappy with everything and resorting to unhealthy measures. I thought this book was a gripping view into a girl's life. It was not action packed of filled with suspense but it was a interesting tale of how deep someone can fall into depression. I would recommend this book to others. It has great description and good attention to detail. Overall the books writing style can really grab you if you let it.
SilverrStarr More than 1 year ago
Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" reads like a wistful poem with its intriguing voice that echoes in the reader's ears long after the last page has been turned. Esther, the main character, is living what is supposed to be the perfect life for a young woman: she is attractive, academically successful, and is on her way to a glamorous career. But beneath this perfection pops up the depression which strangles her joy and smears misery into everything she does. The most magnificent part of the story is how I felt like I was drifting into the depression and insanity myself. This story is set in the mid-1900s, and it offers a fresh break from vampires and werewolves. Perfect for personal reading, "The Bell Jar" transcends beyond the super-cheery, life-is-perfect 'girl story' and offers something memorable all young adults can at least partially relate to.
cahmstance More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written, beautifully structured. Especially interesting to read now, as a contrast in time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I admit that I was dying to read the book once I heard of it - rushed to this store with the excuse that I needed it for school, when in reality it was a lie. I I was deeply intrigued by the beginning of the story, I couldn't leave the book alone - it joined me everywhere I went, but soon enough it lost that spark. I don't see 'her rapid downward spiral,' to me it was just her usual insane escapades, nothing more. Although it is interesting to know that this was Plath's account of her insanity, I must say I was let down by that second portion of the novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Plath's execution of this novel was superlative. She clearly illustrated for the reader Esther's deteriorating state, almost too perfectly. She truly lead you to empathize with Esther, (which was certainly not always a good thing) furthermore it lead you to understand the state of her mind and her total lack of sanity. I found that empathizing with her provided more of a beneficial position for myself as the reader. Overall, this book was tragically beautiful. A must read, sincerely.
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
Blew Me Away! Considering how much I love the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, I’m pretty surprised by how long it has taken me to finally read The Bell Jar. I think it is because I have heard so much about it’s depressing nature that I was wary. How could such a depressing book be so wonderful? But since it is on my 2013 TBR Challenge list, Classics Club challenge and 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, I finally read it. And now I know why it’s such a hit. A semi-autobiographical book, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath tells the story of Esther Greenfield, a high achieving young woman who spirals downward into depression and insanity. What surprised me about this book is that I didn’t find it nearly as depressing as I expected it to be and was able to follow her rationalizations for her thoughts and actions. This is one of the reasons for the book’s long-term success, but experiencing it firsthand is a totally different ball game. It reminds me of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s book More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction (she also wrote Prozac Nation), where the reader jumps headfirst down into the rabbit hole with the author.Prior to reading this book, I had never really paid much attention to Sylvia Plath. I considered her an author that I would get to someday and finally, years later, I am reading her for the first time. While I knew that she committed suicide at a young age and was known for The Bell Jar and her poetry, I had no idea that the book was as closely aligned with her real life as it was. The introduction and biographical section at the end of the book gives the reader a great insight into the development and publication of the book, which was just as interesting as the book itself. I was totally surprised to learn that The Bell Jar was originally released under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. If you haven’t read this book, then you definitely should. While it’s dark in nature, it’s not the depressing cry-myself-to-sleep book that I thought it was going to be. Instead, it gives the reader a birds eye view of what it’s like to slowly unravel. Anyone who has battled anxiety will relate to certain aspects of this book, and it, dare I say, normalizes insanity.
Dorothy_L More than 1 year ago
Pure Genius!!! I don't recall ever being so moved by a book as I felt when I read The Bell Jar. The way in which Plath likens the feelings of detatchment and solitude felt by sufferers of depression to a belljar is pure genius. This book is not only thought provoking, it also provides an invaluable insight into the unknown territory of insanity. This book is a must read for anyone remotely interested in mental health and also anyone who has ever experienced depressive illness. I highly recommend it.
Elijah_Joon More than 1 year ago
It's a shame Sylvia Plath left the world only one completed novel. Too bad she burned the follow-up novel to this work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, is an intense novel about a struggling young woman named Esther Greenwood. Esther is brilliant, beautiful and talented. Unfortunately, she starts to slip under the tight grip of insanity. As the reader, you slip with Esther into her bell jar and get a deep look into the disturbing crevices of the human mind. I thought this novel was extremely well written and it is a book that you will not want to put down! The plot is shocking and twisting on a somewhat different and new level of darkness. This is definitely a classic and a great book for all ages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The non-fiction novel, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath reveals the life of Esther Greenwood, a college student from Massachusetts who suffers from depression. Esther is sent on a trip to New York to work for a magazine as an editor, but is struggling to enjoy her trip like the rest of the girls. She finds herself disliking all the clothes she had bought for the trip and feeling very empty throughout the trip. Esther decides not to marry her hypocrite college boyfriend Buddy Willard, who lost his virginity before marriage. Esther attempts to lose her virginity as well, but is assaulted and almost raped by a man she was on a date with. When Esther returns home her depression begins to worsen and she seeks treatment, which only makes things worse. Esther begins to consider killing herself. Sylvia Plath wrote this book to inform the reader about depression and how it affects the lives of people who are depressed. This is shown when Esther “knew something was wrong with [her] that summer, because all I could think about was the Rosenbergs and how stupid I’d been to buy all those uncomfortable, expensive clothes […] and how all the little successes [she] totted up so happily at college fizzled to nothing […]” (2). This reveals that although Esther knows something is wrong with her, she can’t fix herself. Her mind is also set on the Rosenberg execution and she “[…] couldn’t help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive along your nerves” (1). This reveals she is already wondering what it’d be like to die. Also, when Esther returns home “[she] hadn’t washed [her] hair for three weeks […] [she] hadn’t slept for seven nights” (127), and she was wearing the same clothes she arrived home in. This displays how Esther’s mental health has begun to take over her life and prevent her from doing normal everyday things. “I [Esther] would be simple Elly Higginbottom, the orphan. People would love me for my sweet, quiet nature” (132) reveals Esther’s longing for a different life where she was happy and people would love her, which again displays Esther’s mental health getting the best of her because she wants to change who she is completely. Without giving away the ending, I also think the author wrote this book to provide hope for the reader when life becomes rough. I liked this novel because Esther was very independent despite her mental illness. For example, she does not want to marry her seeming perfect college boyfriend because “[she] did not want to give [her] children a hypocrite for a father” (119). This reveals Esther’s independence because she goes against what everyone expected to do and makes her own decisions because she does not think Buddy is good enough for her. In addition, I liked how Plath wrote the novel because it allows the reader to understand that Esther’s mental illness is slowly becoming worse as she slips farther into depression. Furthermore, I enjoyed how Plath showed the reader the world through the eyes of someone burdened with depression. For example when Esther is waiting to meet Doctor Gordon, she feels like the other patients “around [her] weren’t people, but shop dummies, painted to resemble people and propped up in attitudes counterfeiting life” (142). This shows Esther’s feelings towards the other mental patients and that she feels that she soon too will be just a ‘shop dummy.’ Also, when receiving treatment for her illness, she “wondered what a terrible thing it was [she] had done” (143) to receive this treatment. She blames herself for her mental illness and wonders what she could have done that was so bad that she needed to be punished for it. Overall, I enjoyed reading this novel and could not find anything I did not like in it. I recommend this novel to others, especially if they are going through a tough time in life, or if they feel depressed, because it is a good read and it is an inspiring novel that provides hope.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When i was reading the beginning of the book, it was really exciting. I loved it. Now i am on page 85 or so and it is pretty boring. It has no climax, and even though i usually dont read adventure books,i wanted more.the beginning had many funny situations (like to kill a mocking bird) but were i am now all she talks about is what she pysically sees. It is sort of disapointing. Nothing is happening.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Plsth's voice is unmistakable. Hers is a story set in the 50s that nevertheless feels completely real.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Feels likr you are in her mind!
lulupup More than 1 year ago
If you have ever wondered what mental illness looks like from the inside out this book could give you that insight. I, having had several family members with mental illness, was looking for just that. What amazes me is the brilliance that often accompanies mental illnesses. Plath's writing is so easy to relate to, even with the gap in years between now and then. She is not antiquated. She is bold and open. This is a truly authentic piece of literature. I would suggest it for your home library.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Anonymous 8 months ago
A wonderful book. The writing is so poetic. The only negative comment that I have is that I wasn't too fond of the ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The pain of depression screws with every part of your self. It will worm its way into every part of your berig. Depression is like a hole that cant be filled ever. It sends one to the dark places we want no one to see and will eat you alive if you arnt careful. Someone needs to listen with a kind nonjudgemental heart. Most of all is kindness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Must read. Hands down.
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kelsiroth More than 1 year ago
Extremely sad and well written
Anonymous More than 1 year ago