How would you describe the setting of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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New York in the 1950s is shown to be a location that only serves to heighten Esther's feelings of something not being quite right about herself, as she is not able to slip in to the role that society demands of her, and also she expects of herself in many ways. This disjointed sense that the narrator experiences in comparison with her surroundings is highlighted very early on in the novel, as the following quote suggests:

I knew something was wrong with me that summer ...all the little successes I'd totted 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.

There is the clear comparison with the "little successess," with "little" perhaps suggesting a rather mocking tone, compared with the reality of the "slick marble and plate-glass fronts" that she sees everyday along Madison Avenue, an area of New York associated with the American advertising industry. There is something about American consumerism, which is such a key element of this novel, that does not sit comfortably with Esther, and this clearly creates her feeling of disease as she tries to live her life, which so many other girls would envy, in the roaring metropolis that is New York. The setting therefore is based in New York, but is used to highlight the sense that Esther has of not fitting in, and of feeling different.

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