Study Guide

The Bell Jar

by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar Essay - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series The Bell Jar Analysis

Masterpieces of Women's Literature The Bell Jar Analysis

Plath’s central intention in The Bell Jar seems to be to depict the harrowing reality of a worsening mental condition when the person is beginning to lose contact with the world around her. One impressive technique is the distorted descriptions of everyday life. For example, her new and expensive clothes are hanging “limp as fish” in her closest; German words are “dense, black, barbed-wire letters”; and to describe the clothes of Hilda, a fellow guest-editor, “fashion blurbs, silver and full of nothing, set up their fishy bubbles in my brain.” As Esther returns home after her month in New York City, the phrases indicating distortions give way to distorted descriptions of entire landscapes and incidents.

The theme of appearance versus reality is important in The Bell Jar in several ways. Externally, Esther Greenwood seems to enjoy a very successful life: She is a scholarship recipient at a prestigious school, a published poet, and the winner of a month in New York as the guest-editor of a magazine. Internally, she questions her identity, believes that she cannot continue to be successful, finds herself socially awkward, and feels herself to be sexually unfulfilled. Existentially, she challenges the meaning of the successes that she has attained.

The ironic tone of the narrator is one of the principal literary devices used to create the bifurcated vision of a highly intelligent young writer who sees both the conventional façade and the reality behind it. One example of such duplicity is the luncheon for the guest-editors given by Lady Day magazine. Although the kitchens gleam with spotless stainless steel counters and ranges, the...

(The entire section is 691 words.)