Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series The Bell Jar Analysis

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Any analysis of The Bell Jar is complicated by the fact that its story is a thinly disguised version of Sylvia Plath’s own breakdown and suicide attempt, which took place when she was twenty. The novel has a positive ending: Freed from her obsessions and her virginity as well, Esther Greenwood is ready to return to the world, play an adult’s part, marry, and bear the responsibilities of parenthood. Plath, however, committed suicide not long after the novel was first published in England. It is therefore tempting to graft Plath’s later story onto Esther’s, to see Esther Greenwood as someone who does not really understand the roots of her illness and is deluded as to the success of her healing. Plath saw her novel as the story of a survivor and intended to write a sequel that would show “that same world as seen through the eyes of health.”

The arguable issue of the novel’s outcome set aside, The Bell Jar leaves plenty to discuss. At least part of Esther’s discomfort comes from the limitations of her society, which had only a few areas women could comfortably enter, nearly all of which required submissiveness to men. Everywhere Esther looks, she sees women in supporting roles, never as lead players. She sees Buddy Willard’s mother, college educated, spending her life cleaning. She sees Dodo Conway, who seems ecstatic about bringing child after child into the world. She sees her own widowed mother, eking out a living by...

(The entire section is 574 words.)