Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Dust Jacket Description:

"Working in New York one hot summer, Esther Greenwood is on the brink of her future. Yet she is also on the edge of a darkness that makes her world increasingly unreal. In this vivid and unforgettable novel about the struggles of growing up, Esther's world shines through: the wide eyed country girls, her crazed men-friends, hot dinner dances and nights in New York, and a slow slide into breakdown."

I am naturally a critical reader. Actually, I may be the real life Nick Carraway, to make a reference to The Great Gatsby. It is rare that a book resonates to the point where my review can't possess an objective angle or element. But if there was ever a book, it's The Bell Jar.

That's not to say The Bell Jar isn't exceptionally crafted. Esther will be the passive, Jungian shadow self of many readers who pick up the book. The characters are not exactly real, but they are a product of first person narration. The way Esther perceives everyone from Doreen to her mother reminds me of my musings in fever dreams - dark, heavy-lidded, and more right than I'd like to admit. It's just that I am a part of the audience Plath is and writes for: female, educated, middle to upper class, predominately white. Not that this narrative is invalid - while it's a more popular and well-known feminist perspective, it still has value. It is simply that Plath's words attach themselves to my mind and linger. Every thought Esther possesses feels right, every action she takes fits. It is not quite the soul-mate meeting Gemma Doyle and I had, but more like suddenly finding a different version of yourself and their story.

Esther's story floats on the periphery of my world rather like Lolita's did - its dark humor echoes my own mind far more often than our society allows. It presses down, finds you in a place alarmingly nihilist, and it lets you find your way out on your own. I slip into this mood without aid sometimes, but it was helpful seeing that other people possessed it as well.

Esther fits me. Not in a way that gets me excited or passionate, but in one that creates an ease from being found. Plath maintains her tone and her character with precision. 5 flowers.

Plath's metaphors are stunning and reserved. I liked this combination. The pacing was sort of surprising, and I liked that element. My one qualm - which might be my edition, as it was chock full of typos - was some of the ambiguous grammar in the novel. Sentences seemed unintentionally long winded at times. Overall, Plath's style is like getting drowsy from a scalding bath. 4 and a half flowers.

I thought the arc Esther undergoes was perfect for the content. Looking from its beginning to its end, the progression is another way of mocking society. The way Plath uses details is like being inside a good play, and I loved that. 5 flowers.

Many novels make an attempt at ambiguity in its end, but Plath makes her reader feel it. Some part of me is dissatisfied with the place it ended, but once again, tone and emotion trump all. 4 and a half flowers.

Dust Jacket Description:
To be honest, no jacket was going to give this justice. There's no way to match the tone in such a short period of time. This one makes the novel feel like an Oprah book, but I can't blame it. It's too big of a task to complete. 2 flowers.

This feels so wrong for the content. I wanted a picture of a bell jar, or one of the various lovely metaphors in the book. This girl and her camera shot don't work, but I see how they'd appeal to female readers. 3 flowers.

This is one book where I can't pinpoint my reaction. It's brilliant, well written and it resonates. But the emotion Plath creates is one that lives somewhere deeper than where passion resides. Somewhere a whole lot harder to get at. It's worth reading to see what it inspires in you. 4 and a half flowers.


  1. A Midsummer's Night, both the play and the movie with Stanley Tucci and Kevin Kline. You must read and watch and love.

    And then Macbeth, both play and the movie with Patrick Stewart. I don't know if you will like the movie - the sound editing leaves much to be desired IMO - but so much blood. Blood and madness and British accents.

  2. "Esther fits me. Not in a way that gets me excited or passionate, but in one that creates an ease from being found."

    Now if that isn't a gorgeous, perfect thought...

    Wonderful review. You speak to the critical thinkers in us as well (especially Sarah who is our resident English prof hehe).