Narrator: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Published by HarperCollins on 1963
Length: 7 hours and 30 minutes
Genres: Classics, Contemporary
Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under -- maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.
‘Sylvia Plath’s only novel, The Bell Jar, has, on several occasions, been on banned book lists. […] Well, the first reason is due to the suicidal tendencies and attempted suicide scene. It has been said that some find it inappropriate to read about for it may entice readers to do the same. A few other reasons that Plath’s book has been subjected to being banned is, according to the University of Virginia’s Censored Exhibit online, is that “in the late 1970s, The Bell Jar was suppressed for not only its profanity and sexuality but for its overt rejection of the woman’s role as wife and mother.'”‘
‘The silence drew off, baring the pebbles and shells and all the tatty wreckage of my life. Then, at the rim of vision, it gathered itself, and in one sweeping tide, rushed me to sleep.’
Esther Greenwood is a promising young editorial intern at a popular women’s magazine in New York City. Despite the potential of a bright life ahead of her, Esther remains discouraged and almost intimidated by the future. She’s a very independent and strong-minded woman in a time where social expectations for a woman of her age are vastly different than her mindset. This expectancy that is placed on her only increases her discouragement in life and a deep depression begins to shape.
‘I felt myself melting into the shadows like the negative of a person I’d never seen before in my life.’
The bell jar is an object used in physics experiments in order to preserve something as it creates a vacuum effect and things inside become hermetically sealed. The metaphor here is that everything placed inside becomes unaffected by anything that occurs on the outside, much as Esther’s feelings form a sort of trap that contain her. Her feelings of doubt and discouragement overtake her and she’s unable to see reason and no amount of outside influence can change that. This would typically make for an extremely depressing tone however Esther is a surprisingly humorous, albeit dark, character. The Bell Jar is actually a retelling of events after they have already occurred so in essence Esther is looking back over her life and is realizing the naivety of her actions.
Sylvia Plath skillfully incorporates her gorgeous prose into her first and only novel. The writing style itself is extremely clever and seamless with a somewhat unreliable narrator. The story is not told in chronological order so the story is often hard to extrapolate but must be reminisced on after it’s all said and done. Esther Greenwood is meant to be the semi-autobiographical of Sylvia Plath herself and if you know anything about her actual biography that may explain the cryptic ending we’re given.
The narration by Maggie Gyllenhaal is superb and emulates the words of Esther Greenwood flawlessly. I had actually attempted reading this one in a physical copy and couldn’t get hooked on it but the audio was such a treat.
The reasons why this eye-opening novel has been banned span from ‘it encourages suicide’ and ‘it encourages a non-traditional way of life (mainly for women)’. As far as this novel ‘encouraging’ suicide that’s positively absurd. The Bell Jar does not encourage suicide it simply showcases how deep depression can be, how strong a hold it can have on you and gives you a firsthand view of what it means to unravel. I see nothing wrong with the subject matter and I personally find it to be more educational than anything.