Banned Book: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

                Esther Greenwood thought she was on the right path in life. She was given a scholarship to attend a university and was enrolled in their honors program. She won a fashion magazine contest and was given a job in New York as a prize with all expenses paid. During her time in New York she was given the opportunity to meet famous people from many different walks of life and attend shows while in the city. Yet she was extremely unhappy. She returned home and attempted to kill herself. From there she received a ticket to a mental institution, undergoing shock treatments and therapy. She was stuck under the bell jar and saw no way out of the enclosure she was trapped in.
                The Bell Jar is an examination of the life of a woman being crushed by her own indecisions and the expectations she felt were pressed upon her. Would Esther ever marry? She didn’t know for sure but she doubted it. She wanted too much for herself but what she could no longer say. At one point she had known. At one point she wanted to be successful at school, at being an author, at life. But now she wasn’t sure what that meant or what to do. Her experience in New York changed many things, especially her perspective on life. The idea of what her life would be seemingly collapsed and when she returned home she failed to collect the pieces of her old self.
                This novel as a whole is enjoyable and relays quite well how intense pressure can fracture a person’s state of mind. The problem lies in Esther as the narrator because she is unreliable and vague. I completely understand the idea of our protagonist undergoing a mental psychotic breakdown and the intense narration that took place but I still want to understand what was going on. There were moments throughout where more detail was necessary. Was this novel interesting? Yes, extremely so. It honestly felt like the encapsulation of a quarter life crisis. Now we would recognize it for that, an expression of doubt in oneself at the moment before our assumed goals were reached. Here, for our nineteen year old Esther, it was that and much more. She was expected to want a family and sacrifice her career for that. That wasn’t in her plans. But when the idea she had was crushing her she didn’t know what to do.
                Now this book covered a wide variety of topics including sex, suicide and drinking. It has been challenged multiple times because of those topics since its release in 1963. It was prohibited in 1978 in Warsaw schools in Indiana. It was challenged in Edwardsville, Illinois in 1981 because of the sex mentioned and because it advocated an “objectionable” way of life, which I’m assuming was Esther’s feelings toward never getting married and having children. In 1988 it was challenged again in Richland High in Washington for including suicide and a hopeless sense of life. Everyone is not going to have Esther’s experience but I’m sure others will look at this book and feel a certain kinship with her because they too feel trapped under a bell jar. While a fiction novel, it touches on very realistic issues and should be available for everyone.
Banned Books Resource Guide (2014 ed.) by Robert P. Doyle, published by ALA.



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