Many have paralleled Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar, to her very own life. Plath is known for her tormented life of constant depression and disappointments, causing her to end her life early at the young age of 30. The time frame in which the book is in matches the times when she is enlisted in many mental institutes and ultimately her suicide. The story of Esther Greenwood also tells the feelings and emotions of Sylvia Plath. Other characters in the novel are said to be in relation to characters in the author’s life.
The novel begins where Esther is just about halfway through her job as Mademoiselle, a fashion magazine. She and many other girls received this opportunity because of their exceptional writing abilities. Even though this she had waited for this chance for a year, she is actually disappointed because she had expected more from the other prizewinners. “These girls looked awfully bored to me. I saw them on the roof yawning and painting their nails and trying to keep their Bermuda tans, and they seemed bored as hell… Girls like that make me sick.” (Pg. 4) A couple other unfortunate events also led her to be depressed at her stay in the hotel. At a dinner gathering, Esther ate a lot of crabmeat that happened to be poisoned. She passes out and awakes in her room. Her recovery is slow and agonizing. Another social event causes yet again another mishap. Doreen, Esther best friend there, sets Esther up with a friend of Doreen’s boyfriend to go to a party. There, the blind date attempts to sexually assault, but Esther resists and walks away with her dignity. After returning to the hotel, Esther takes no care of the assault and just carries on. Later, she finds out that her on and off boyfriend, Buddy Willard, is actually not a virgin. “At first I thought he must have slept with the waitress only that once, but when I asked how many times, just to make sure, he said he couldn’t remember but a couple of times a week for the rest for the summer.” (Pg. 70-71) Knowing this, she thought it to be okay if she were to have an affair also. On a date with Constantin, he invites her to his room, but to her dismay, nothing happens. Once the stay at the hotel is over, Esther returns home to Boston, home to more disappointments. “The air punched out of my stomach. All through June the writing course stretched before me like a bright, safe bridge over the dull gulf of the summer. Now I saw it totter and dissolve…” (Pg. 114) During this time, Buddy Willard is in a hospital treating patients with TB. Esther discovers that Buddy is falling in love with a nurse there, and continues with her own life in Boston. Insomnia begins to grow upon Esther, and her mother refers her to a psychiatrist. The doctor concludes that Esther suffers a severe state of depression, and is tells her that electroshock therapy is needed. Later in the story, it reveals that the first few treatments she received actually causes her restlessness. Because of these bad therapy sessions, Esther goes through many attempts at suicide, none successful. A major cause of her depression is revealed. “I thought that if my father hadn’t died, he would have taught me all about insects, which was his specialty at the university.” (Pg. 165) She then finds her father’s grave and “couldn’t understand why I was crying so hard.” (Pg. 167) After more suicide attempts, she is taken to a mental institution. Even there, she still thinks of suicide and did not enjoy, maybe hated, visits from her mother. In one scene in the story, the mother visits. “That afternoon my mother had brought me the roses. ‘Save them for my funeral,’ I’d said… ‘But Esther, don’t you remember what day it is today?’ ‘No…’ ‘It’s your birthday.’ And that was when I had dumped the roses in the wastebasket.” (Pg. 202-203) This was at her third institute she was transferred to. At this same institute, she met an old friend, Joan who she grew to dislike. But also here, she meets Dr. Nolan, the only person she seems to open up to. She actually allows the doctor to perform electroshock therapy even with the previously failed treatments. The sessions proved to help greatly and in a few weeks, she seemed ready to return home. Esther goes in for her interview to be released, but “how did I know that someday – at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere – the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?” (Pg. 241) And so, the story ends.
The novel brings back to life the 1950’s. Being that the novel reflects Plath’s own life in the 1950’s, many similarities occur. Women grew more superficial in the 50’s, concerning themselves with the opposite sex. This is shown by the other girls at the hotel “painting their nails and trying to keep their Bermuda tans.” Also in the Fifties, sex became more and more casual. Esther had expected Buddy to remain pure until marriage, but she finds that he is not a virgin and was sexually active during that summer. But this novel does not concern too much of America’s history, but more of Plath’s own past. The Bell Jar depicted Sylvia Plath’s life and ulitmate destruction.