Bell Jar

Bell Jar

by Sylvia Plath
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Trade Paperback, 288 pages
Current Retail Price: $13.00
Not in stock

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It's not often that intensely personal accounts reflect almost perfectly the state of the world. Sylvia Plath's intensely sad and dismal The Bell Jar is one of the few, capturing in its gaunt prose the isolation and angst of an entire generation. A kind of female Kerouac who had no real contact with the New York Beats, Plath struggled her whole life with insanity, which is the object of the title's metaphor.

Young Esther Greenwood has two obsessions: her art (writing, specifically poetry) and her madness. In her suffocatingly interior account the reader is also subjected to these preoccupations, and to her often stymied desire to lose her sexual virginity. One would be tempted to assume that in Greenwood's world all men are evil and women alone can be trusted, but it's not so—women are no less evil or sexually deranged than men.

This isn't primarily a coming of age story or account of sexual liberation. Esther Greenwood (who is basically Plath's autobiographical stand-in) isn't too concerned with growing up or being "liberated," at least not in a general or political sense. What she wants is liberation from herself, but her only recourse is to dive further inward until her dissatisfaction leads her to a string of attempted suicides.

The plot is simple: between the summer and fall of her junior year of college, Esther tries to fit in, have sex, resolve herself to domestic marriage, and write poetry. What she actually succeeds in is to go crazy, not kill herself, and devise some kind of fractured recovery that deposits her back in college in the middle of winter. This winter recovery is telling—though she is momentarily free, the landscape and outlook are bleak.

What makes this novel so significant is that it demonstrates the ultimate end of so much modern thought. Esther, at the advice of others, attempts to concoct her own healing within....the irony being that it is her internal self that is damaged and needs healing. Even her creativity is ultimately far from redemptive as a series of repeated acts of inward self-expressions. This is the plight of mankind left in the wreckage of the Modern Era. Plath's hauntingly lovely style only makes it more disturbing.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

 

 

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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