Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Prong's 14th review - The Bell Jar

Hey there loyal marauders. Prong's here bringing you yet another review! Getting sick of me yet? Hope not because this one is a doozy. But before we get there, we have quite a few announcements to make!
First off as I am sure almost all of you know, unless you are living under a rock, BBAW is upon us! Next week most book blogger's will be putting their party hats on and shacking up with a list of some of the best blogs of the year. We are so thankful to everyone who nominated us for awards (6 in total!!) and we hope in the year to come that you will still feel the same way. As a new blog we were shocked and honored to have been nominated at all! Also, we were stoked to see some of our very favorite blogs shortlisted this week. Jenner's 'Take A Chance Challenge' and Elizabeth's 451 series that we particpated in are just 2 of the amazing nominations that are up for an award!
On behalf of Padfoot and myself, we wish every one the very best BBAW that bloggers can have. Make sure to check back because we will be hosting a very special give away in honor of the event, as well as participating in the daily's that are being provided.

Nextly, be sure to check out the new Etsy account of our good friend Whumples. She has some seriously cool things for sale and are proud that she thought of us to help get the word out!!

And finally as far as news goes, we wanted to expressed to your our gratitude for all of your patience with our literary designs that we have discussed. Padfoot and I are working very hard to make our dream a reality, and we are focusing making everything perfect before providing you all with a final product. New designs, quality shirts, and BEAUTIFUL mugs are all things that we should have up and ready for sale sometime here very very soon, so be sure to just hang in there alittle bit longer. We promise it will be worth the wait.
Mk I think that is about all we have on the news front. So I shall now bring you my (highly? not really) anticipated of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar

"I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am."
The Bell Jar
By Sylvia Plath

Disclaimer: If you are at all like me, you know that it is all to easy to become lost in a good book. That saying is a cliché for a reason: the imagery, the dialogue, the journey through another time and place and before you now it you are caught up in a literary reverie all your own. When the last page closes you are suddenly transported back into a world slightly less colorful and magical, but those feelings and images still linger in your memory. The novel the Bell Jar is a novel that can have just such an effect, but not necessarily in the best way. If you feel misunderstood, confused, bored, or jaded this might be a good work for you. However if you are suffering from depression, have looked at suicide as a realistic alternative, or at times find yourself in the ‘depths of despair’ then I HIGHLY suggest you read this book with caution. Take the words for what they are, nothing more that than desperate outlet of a woman who had troubles all her own. Do not let this book be the unnecessary excuse to act upon any dangerous thoughts. That being said, for all of those who are clear of mind and heart go forth and enjoy the amazing writing, which is The Bell Jar.

The Bell Jar was published in 1967 by Sylvia Plath, a woman known best for her illustriousus marriage to Ted Hughes, cut-throat writing, and her eventual suicide at the age of 30. Her most acclaimed novel ‘The Bell Jar’ is a semi-autobiographical work, which channels Plath’s own battle with depression and mental illness into the character of Esther Greenwood. Esther is a 19-year-old university student who moves to New York with an internship for a well-known magazine. While there, we are first introduced to the inner workings of Esther’s mind as she watches the shallow, hedonistic world of her friends, and deals with her opinions in an introverted self-assured way.
“There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing in a week, I slump down just so far then I say: “I’ll go take a hot bath.”
It is not until Esther returns to her hometown in the suburbs of Boston that we begin to see the stunted thoughts of depression and hopelessness that soon smother Esther’s mentality. We begin to learn about some of the steps that have brought Esther to this point in her life. Her turbulent relationship with un-worthy college sweetheart, her near rape by a man what looked to be the answers to her problems, as well as her absent father.

As the book progresses, we are privy to the inner-workings of Esther’s mind as she battles with the sickness that she has fought little to keep from suffocating her. Trapped under a ‘bell jar’ of apathy, anger, and despair, Esther has changed from the once charming, relatable girl from the opening, to a stranger of herself.
"I just bumped from my hotel to work and to parties and from parties to my hotel and back to work like a numb trolley bus. I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn’t get myself to react. (I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.)"
This work is often compared with ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and the comparison is easily seen. Both characters are young, angst-ridden juveniles who many teenagers will have an easy time relating too. However Plath takes it to the next level with her superior word play. Sylvia’s strength as a poet through out the entire work, as she twists and pulls on various words and images, putting them into a new and interesting light. But while the prose at times can be seductive in the way it pulls you into Ester’s world, Plath also writes with the brute force of a fool as she describes in detail the countless thoughts of suicide that Ester peruses. Remember what I said earlier about how a work can haunt you in both good ways and bad ways? This is an example of a bad way.
"I took up a silver knife and cracked off that cap of my egg. Then I put down the knife and looked at it. I tried to think what I had loved knives for, but my mind slipped from the noose of the thought and swung, like a bird, in the center of empty air."
The writing is so palpable that it is hard not to become trapped in the apathetic suicidal mind frame of Ester, which leaves you with the physical ghost of the writing. You are forced to ask yourself, if this could happen to her, could it happen to me? That resonating question is precisely what makes this work so dangerous. In the beginning, Ester’s thoughts make sense. You can understand her thought process and hell, you don’t even blame her at times for feeling stuck and vacant in shallowness of the world around her. The hints of depression slip in so subtly that before you know it, you are inundated in a world of insincere doctors, electroshock therapy, and counterfeit far off smiles.

While this book has its fare share of depressive approaches, what separates this work from others is the way Esther redeems herself as a character in the end. You might expect writing that has dragged someone so far down, to reward the character with an easy out, an epiphany where all of their problems are magically ended. Plath pushes herself into the canon of modern classics with her realistic ending, showing that we all have to make the choice whether to allow ourselves the easy out of apathy, or fight the hardest battle we can… the battle for our own personal happiness.

At the end this is a novel of courage, of daring, and of choice. While the subject matter might not appeal to all, the prose and the writing will appeal to any one that has a love for literature.



  1. Hands down one of the best books ever written, but so powerful that I can't read it but once every few years. Actually, in a decade, I think I've only managed to read it twice.

  2. This is one of the books that defined a stage of my life; I read it at a time when I felt almost exactly like Esther. My diary quoted from it liberally as if it were gospel. As powerful as Plath's poetry is, The Bell Jar affected me immensely.

  3. @ Amanda. Yes I am surprised it took me so long to pick this one up, with how much of an acclaim it has. It is not something I could read often, for the reasons I said about. It is just to powerful for me to let myself get caught up in her world so often.

    @ Yes I can see how this would be a powerful book at any stage in a young persons life. That is why this book can be so amazing/dangerous. I have often had thoughts similar to Esthers, especially in the earlier stages in the book (when she is in NY). Glad this book was helpful to you!

  4. So glad you reviewed this, Sara. My copy is worn and torn and I could re-read it once a week if time allowed. I believe such enjoyment is gained from it because she so elequently writes about such a deep suffereing, that we can feel as though there is beauty in it. When I am feeling blue, it lightens me slightly to know that even my sadness is attractive in some way, and I should allow myself to feel it. It's a shame that Sylvia passed away, but I think in writing Esther she has allowed herself to live forever.

  5. Wow, congrats on the nominations! You guys definitely deserve them!

    All good news here :D

    I've never read The Bell Jar. Your review is, as they always are, wonderful. This one is intriguing to me and I will add it to the TBR pile!

    Have a Happy Day!

  6. @ Jac - Glad you liked the review. That is a very interesting take on what the pro's of the work are. I had not looked at it that way, so it is good that you are able to take her sadness and find some comfort in it, as opposed to letting it make it worse. I agree due to the autobiographical nature we were able to get a little bit more of Plath than fate would physically allow us.

    @ Chic. Thanks I am soo glad you enjoyed this one!! It is not all as depressing as I made it seem (even though it def has its very very low points) But there is a bit of 'the triumph of the human spirit' twords the end which really helps. I wasn't a huge fan of the abrupt ending a reader I always want more.

  7. I love The Bell Jar! But I can't read it if I'm down, only when happy clappy :)

  8. Ha yea thats exactly what the disclaimer was for. I don't think I would be able to read it starting off in a bad mood, let alone in a depressed one. I can only imagine the effect that could have!

  9. I read Bell Jar when I was in my late teens, and I loved it. It was also the book that helped later on realize that I was depressed, because I came to realize that I felt a lot how Esther felt. I read Plath's poetry then too, Ariel was the collection I enjoyed the most. In a way, I think Sylvia gave voice to a generation of young women who didn't know how to voice what they were thinking and feeling - and not on purpose, quite by accident, but I think there is an authenticity to this book that Sylvia's experiences give it that women understand.

    thanks for the good review!

  10. Glad you enjoyed a review. Yes I think what is most striking about this book, is that she never comes out and says she is depressed. You can see the other symptoms of apathy, loss of interest etc. And those are feelings that she can't even bring herself to care enough to address, which is a huge part of the danger of depression. I agree that this book could be a wonderful piece in the way that it can show not just teenagers, but any one that they are not alone in their feelings.

    I read a bit of her poetry, and I really LOVED Lady Lazarus. Every thing about that was amazing to me.

    Thanks again for the wonderful compliment.

  11. My aunt told me she read this back when she was in her twenties and it freaked her out because she identified with it a little too well and said she could easily see the same things happening to her. I hated The Catcher in the Rye but I think I really should check this one out.

  12. Well done ... I'm amazed that you aren't 40 years old. You write with such experience and authority. Are you sure you are just 21?

    And I think it is good to have that disclaimer.

  13. @ E.L I actually HATED Catcher in the Rye as well so you might be ok. I couldn't stand how much Holden whined, and I guess because I am not a 15 yr old boy he just didn't relate to me. However at least Esther has a few redeeming qualities so hopefully you will find some way to connect to her.

  14. @ Jenners. Hahaha aww thank you so much that is such a wonderful comment. I am often afraid that my writing isn't mature enough, at least in the 'literary' world so that really means alot. Yea I felt like the disclaimer was really important. Words can be so powerful it is just good to know what you are getting into before you are to immersed in the psyche of the character. Glad you liked the review!


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