BOOK TITLE: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
BOOK TYPE: Non-autobiographical autobiography
You may like this if you liked: Crime and Punishment (books with miserable misanthropists as relatable protagonists), OR Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (it actually works best if you think of this book as a prequel to The Bell Jar), OR not having children.
*The Bell Jar was tits. It centers on a young woman who is plagued by limited, lackluster aspirations in her 1963 society. She can learn shorthand and become a secretary, grunt out a baby or several, or continue writing without ever gaining the notoriety she deserves. This almost-memoir’s themes made it a groundbreaking feminist work at its time of publication, and even today (we’re on like ninth wave feminism now, right?) we can still appreciate it as such. What I found most intriguing about The Bell Jar was Plath’s characterization of protagonist Esther. **If you read, you’ll see that she’s a total asshole. She’s neither warm, nor sunny, nor empathetic, nor selfless. She’s absent of all qualities we expect of the ideal woman/mother/vagina toter. This book is as depressing as a failed suicide (or a successful suicide), but following Esther as she continuously bumps her head on the glass is almost funny in a tragic way. Plath’s prose is also fantastic, totally jarring (yuck, yuck, yuck). If you read her most famous book of poems The Colossus concurrently with The Bell Jar, which I highly recommend, you’ll see that she gives the same metaphorical weight to her prose as she does to her poetry. Although her language is significantly more conversational (thank God), Plath still ascribes the same level of connotation to objects and memories in The Bell Jar that she does in The Colossus. **Sometimes the two works even intersect, like when Esther is trying to swim to a rock far off the coastline in an attempt to either drown in the process or prove that she really can achieve the unachievable (in her case, escaping “the bell jar”), her struggle to get the rock is mirrored by “Suicide Off Egg Rock” from The Colossus. I have never rooted for a main character to die so hard, and I mean that as proof that Plath created one of the most sympathetic characters (without empathy) in literary history. ****This book wouldn’t be much different if Plath wrote it today, except that Esther would be a struggling millennial who would deactivate her facebook at the onset of her mental break rather than throwing away all her clothes. A must-read for any gender in any time period.
*At the time of reading this iconic piece of feminist lit, I was a 21-year-old female poetry student working at a news publication, and was cranky about Hobby Lobby during the summer before my senior year of college. Before you shout “Of course you liked it, you fornicator!” I believe my minor similarity to Plath (and Esther) only strengthens my ability to evaluate this book.
****Shitty social media joke alert.