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CliffsNotes on Plath's The Bell Jar

CliffsNotes on Plath's The Bell Jar

Автором Jeanne Inness

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CliffsNotes on Plath's The Bell Jar

Автором Jeanne Inness

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3/5 (6,320 оценки)
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127 pages
1 hour
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Издано:
Mar 3, 1999
ISBN:
9780544179851
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Книге

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This CliffsNotes guide includes everything you’ve come to expect from the trusted experts at CliffsNotes, including analysis of the most widely read literary works.
Издатель:
Издано:
Mar 3, 1999
ISBN:
9780544179851
Формат:
Книге

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CliffsNotes on Plath's The Bell Jar - Jeanne Inness

Contents


Title Page

Contents

Copyright

Book Summary

About The Bell Jar

Character List

Summary and Analysis

Chapters 1–4

Chapters 5–8

Chapters 9–10

Chapters 11–14

Chapters 15–18

Chapters 19–20

Character Analysis

Buddy Willard

Joan Gilling

Mrs. Greenwood

Doreen

Betsy

Jay Cee

Philomena Guinea

Doctor Nolan

Sylvia Plath Biography

Critical Essays

Plath, the Individual, versus Society

What Went Wrong for Sylvia Plath?

Anxiety about Death in The Bell Jar

Suicide—A Conclusion

Study Help

Quiz

Essay Questions

Copyright © 1999 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

All rights reserved.

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.

www.hmhco.com

The publisher and the author make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this work and specifically disclaim all warranties, including without limitation warranties of fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales or promotional materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for every situation. This work is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services. If professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. Neither the publisher nor the author shall be liable for damages arising herefrom. The fact that an organization or website is referred to in this work as a citation and/or a potential source of further information does not mean that the author or the publisher endorses the information the organization or website may provide or recommendations it may make. Further, readers should be aware that Internet websites listed in this work may have changed or disappeared between when this work was written and when it is read.

Trademarks: CliffsNotes, the CliffsNotes logo, Cliffs, cliffsnotes.com, and all related trademarks, logos, and trade dress are trademarks or registered trademarks of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is not associated with any product or vendor mentioned in this book.

eISBN 978-0-544-17985-1

v1.0216

Book Summary

The Bell Jar is the story of 19-year-old Esther Greenwood, the breakdown she experiences, and the beginnings of her recovery.

The year is 1953 and Esther Greenwood, having finished college for the academic year, has won a one-month paid internship at Ladies’ Day magazine in New York City. She and eleven other college students, also contest winners, are set up in the Amazon Hotel and juggle work with the scheduled events the magazine has created for them. Esther’s manager at Ladies’ Day, Jay Cee, is a hardworking, hard-hitting, homely professional who expects much of Esther. Esther’s primary friend during this month is Doreen, a glamorous platinum-blond student who chain-smokes, dresses provocatively, and does not take her work seriously.

The reader learns early on about the struggles in Esther’s life. Her father died when she was nine; while Esther wants to be a poet, her mother wants her to learn shorthand so that she will have a vocation to fall back on. She has been dating Buddy Willard, a Yale medical student who bores her and minimizes those things she holds dear: poetry, literature, creation. Buddy has asked her to marry him, but she told him she never plans to marry. During this summer, Buddy is in a sanitarium recovering from tuberculosis.

One evening at the beginning of the novel, Esther and Doreen head out in a cab, only half-intending to go to the event scheduled for the contest winners. They end up in a traffic jam, and are approached by Lenny Shepherd, a local DJ, and his friend Frankie. Lenny latches onto Doreen and Frankie makes his excuses and leaves. Esther, Doreen, and Lenny end up back at Lenny’s lush apartment, with Esther watching as Lenny and Doreen get drunker and more intimate. She eventually walks back to the hotel, leaving Doreen with Lenny. In the middle of the night, Doreen is brought to Esther’s hotel room door, vomiting and drunk, and Esther leaves her in the hallway, deciding she will distance herself from Doreen.

Esther decides on another day that she will ignore several Ladies’ Day–scheduled functions in order to lounge in bed and later spend time in Central Park. Jay Cee, however, calls and asks Esther to come to the office, where she talks very frankly with her about preparations she’ll need to make if she wants to become a New York editor. Esther spends the rest of the morning reading manuscripts at the office, and then catches up with the other contest winners for a banquet. At the banquet, she gorges on caviar, followed by crabmeat salad. At a movie premier later in the afternoon she begins feeling ill and catches a cab home with Betsy, another contest winner who is as wholesome as Doreen is audacious. Back at the Amazon, she is deathly ill and learns later that all of the contest winners at the banquet ended up with grave food poisoning from the crabmeat salad.

As she is recovering from the food poisoning, she gets a call from Constantin, a UN simultaneous interpreter who is acquainted with Mrs. Willard, Buddy Willard’s mother. Esther goes out with Constantin to an ethnic restaurant and meets other fascinating people, who by their accomplishments make her feel her own inadequacy. She plans to seduce Constantin, reveling in the thought of losing her virginity to an acquaintance of Buddy Willard’s mother, but they end up merely sleeping next to each other in his apartment.

As the internship ends, Esther is feeling more and more disjointed and unable to enjoy her experiences in New York. During a photo shoot for the magazine, she is unable to hold her artificial smile, and begins weeping openly. Her final night in the city, she goes on a date with Marco, a woman-hater who begins the evening by giving her a diamond stickpin, and later assaults her. He demands she return his diamond, which was in her handbag; the handbag flew out of her hands and landed somewhere in the mud during the assault. She leaves Marco on his hands and knees in the mud, looking for his diamond. She returns to her hotel room and, one by one, drops her clothes and undergarments out of the window of her room.

The next day Esther trades Betsy her bathrobe for a skirt and blouse, and makes the trip home to New England. Her mother picks her up and immediately tells Esther that she did not get accepted into a writing program she’d applied to; Esther feels hopeless as she looks at spending the rest of the summer in her mother’s house.

Over the next several weeks, Esther is able to do little and slides into depression. She continues to wear the blouse and skirt she bartered for with Betsy and refuses to bathe or wash her hair. She tries to write, but finds she is unable to read, write, or sleep. When she asks the family doctor for more sleeping pills, after having received a prescription the previous week, the doctor refers her to Dr. Gordon, a psychiatrist.

Esther dislikes Dr. Gordon, a young, successful man with what appears to be a perfect family. When she isn’t cooperative with Dr. Gordon, he suggests to her mother that Esther would benefit from electroshock therapy. Esther undergoes one treatment, a harrowing, painful experience that leaves her terrified of the procedure. At this point, Esther’s reasoning becomes more scattered and she becomes obsessed with suicide. After several unsuccessful or aborted attempts—slitting wrists, hanging, drowning—she wedges herself into the crawlspace of her house and takes dozens of sleeping pills. She is missing for several days and wakes up in a hospital. Later, she is moved to a state mental hospital.

With the financial help of novelist Philomena Guinea, who funds Esther’s college scholarship and who was once herself committed to an asylum, Esther is moved to a private hospital that is much more comfortable and humane than the state hospital. Esther meets many of the patients, including Joan, another student from Esther’s college and a one-time romantic interest of Buddy Willard. Esther also meets Dr. Nolan, a female psychiatrist who understands Esther far better than Dr. Gordon did. Dr. Nolan isn’t scandalized when Esther admits that she hates her mother, and the doctor also limits all visitors to Esther—a gesture Esther is grateful for. Dr. Nolan is aware of Esther’s terror of electroshock treatments, and later when these treatments are administered to Esther, they are a much less harrowing experience, both physically and emotionally, because of Dr. Nolan’s care.

Esther continues to have contact with Joan, who she interrupts in a lesbian embrace with another patient. Joan eventually moves into an apartment, becoming roommates with a nurse from the hospital. Esther agrees to come visit Joan in the new apartment, although has no intention of following through. With Dr. Nolan’s help, Esther purchases a

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  • (4/5)
    Sylvia Plath writes a semi-autobiographical account of her college years (early 1950's) as Esther Greenwood. "Esther" is a driven and talented student - succeeding at everything she attempts. As her life progresses, her stability begins to waver. Esther struggles with maintaining purpose in her life and experiences deep depression.The character, Esther, was so believable; I found myself drawn into her world right from the start. The writing of Esther's story brought about many emotions and definitely was a sobering read. (4/5)Originally posted on: "Thoughts of Joy..."
  • (4/5)
    Excellent book. "'If you love her," I said, "you'll love somebody else someday.'"
  • (5/5)
    Esther Greenwood, a stand-in for Sylvia Plath, suffers through a long summer of debilitating mental illness in this classic roman a clef. After a disappointing stint as a "guest editor" at a New York women's magazine (think: Mademoiselle), Esther is at a loss when she comes home to Boston. There the stultifying atmosphere of the bell jar, her metaphor for the deadness of depression, descends upon her. Soon she is hospitalized, and subjected to the cutting-edge treatments available in the late 1950s: electroshock and insulin shock therapy. Soon she is unrecognizable, even to herself. Her future had seemed so bright; what will become of her now?I have read the Bell Jar at least three times: once as a teenager, once as a young adult, and now. With this reading, I was most impressed with the vividness and aptness of Plath's imagery. Her poetic sensibility really shines through. This book is well worth reading, or rereading.
  • (5/5)
    When I say I really liked this book, it was not because of the topic or even the ending. It was a well written book about a topic that needs to be talked about a lot more. This is an autobiographical novel by Sylvia Plath. Her voice is alive in this novel with some humour and depth. It is a sad book about a difficult topic. Unfortunately, her life did not have a happy ending and neither does this book.

    The book begins on an upbeat note with Esther in New York as a guest of a fashion magazine, working as a sort of intern. The group of young women (12 in all) are living at a hotel for women and being feted with endless rounds of shopping and parties in exchange for writing and editing articles for the magazine, with the prospect of being snatched up by a big publishing house at the end of the rainbow. As her time in New York comes to an end, you can see her problems starting. She begins to rebel and chooses not attend some of the functions. She stops going to the magazine until she is summoned by her "boss" and actually throws all her clothes off the top of the building. Once she returns home, her troubles escalate and she quickly spirals into depression. When the depression and suicidal tendencies start, they come on suddenly, but we never why. She attempts several times and ways to commit suicide but is not successful. She becomes a resident in a series of "asylums", with different treatments and different doctors. The book ends with no answer or resolution to Esther's mental condition. She is back at school and ready to move forward with her life, but still has mental health issues. Unfortunately, Syliva Plath took her own life at the young age of 30.
  • (4/5)
    Sylvia Plath's writing has unmistakable clarity. Her imagery is also incredibly apt. I anticipate that much of the symbolism will take me repeated read-throughs to fully grasp. Many times during my one week stay with 'The Bell Jar' I found myself struck and deeply empathizing with many of the descriptions within the book. I felt so similarly to the way that the narrator felt that I found my emotions fluctuating regularly alongside the plot of the novel. I can definitely see myself reading it again in the not too distant future.
  • (1/5)
    The most depressing book I've ever read. Where are the razor blades?
  • (5/5)
    I think it is safe to say The Bell Jar is a classic. Haunting and hurtful, you have to almost flinch away from the mental illness that descends on protagonist Esther Greenwood. Every time she fixates on a way to commit suicide you wonder, does she actually go through with it this time? Does she succeed? Then when you discover The Bell Jar is autobiographical it all makes sense and you think you know the answer.There were so many different lines I wanted to quote. Because I connected to them so deeply, here are a couple of my favorites, "There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room" (p 29) and "There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends" (p 53).
  • (4/5)
    I had read some reviews that this book was disturbing or shocking and I was kinda hoping it would be. I was expecting grittiness given that her poems are usually very dark. What I got was 258 pages of beautiful writing. If it wasn't for the way Sylvia described her surroundings, I don't think I would have enjoyed this book as much.The first half of the book was a bit slow for me and I had a difficult time getting used to the old style language, but by the time she begins talking about her suicide attempts, all the properness disappeared. The book began to pick up, but still I was left wanting more.I wanted to know what was going through her head, her thoughts. She didn't really let the reader in. Maybe it was because of the time the book was written. The subject was taboo. I don't know.Still worth the read if you are a Plath fan. It's an easy read thanks to the way she writes, so you can probably get it done in a day or two.
  • (4/5)
    Sylvia Plath's story of Esther Greenwood's descent into madness is both enjoyable and terrifying at the same time. This is a true classic of teen angst in 1950s America, with particular attention paid to the difficulties that women faced during that time (and still do to this day). A classic that exposes the challenges of mental health and the monstrous "treatments" that were used to help cure people that suffer from this disease.
  • (5/5)
    It was extremely haunting. I had to put the book down several times from the intensity of several of the parts of the book, before I eventually came back to it, which made this book take longer to read than usual. It was a very good book though, so well written and real, I could almost feel the insanity that was gripping escher greenwood while I was reading it, which made the tangibility all the more captivating, and at times intolerable.
  • (2/5)
    Esther's descent in a nervous breakdown. She's self-absorbed and doesn't express herself. I didn't find it sad as I believe some do.
  • (4/5)
    A nail biting tail of a young lady with everything to gain slowly slipping into madness. Ms.Plath knows exactly how madness takes over and describes it perfectly.
  • (4/5)
    Deeply depressing.Esther Greenwood is talented and successful. She has decent looks and is in New York on a big fat scholarship. She has her whole life ahead of her. But things go downhill very quickly for Esther. Things get so bad to the point that her doctor recommends shock therapy which traumatizes the poor girl and since her spiraling even further downhill. During her steady decline she tries to commit suicide and is consequently thrown into a mental institution. And that's when things get really serious... or crazy rather This book dives into the deepest pits of our psyche. It chronicles the dark descent into psychosis. And as the main character is also the narrator we get an inside look at what's going on inside her head. It is almost maddening in itself to read the pages of this book. And it is heartbreaking to watch such a strong successful woman go down so quickly in flames. Very reminiscent of Girl, Interrupted... Or should I say Girl, Interrupted is very reminiscent of The Bell Jar since the latter was written first? The Bell Jar definitely takes place in a decade way before Girl, Interrupted did. However they ended in very much the same way.I devoured this book in one sitting but then again it's not a very large book. This was my first Sylvia Plath book and I have to say I'm glad I gave it a chance. It seems to me that people who have read this book either love it or hate it. To be honest I kind of feel indifferent about it. I didn't adore the book but I didn't loathe it either. Perhaps this is one of those classics that everybody should read once because it acts as a time capsule as well as a look into mental illness and psychosis, both of which it is written beautifully for. With that in mind I would definitely recommend reading this book at least once to take a look into are human past and what may be even more scary, I look into our own human minds.
  • (4/5)
    This is [[Sylvia Plath]]'s only novel. Shortly thereafter, she took her own life. It is said that this novel is autobiographically coloured. In this novel we accompany Esther. A young woman who can not cope with her life and all the impressions and seductions. Esther is a highly intelligent student who has won a trip to NY. Already during her stay in NY one senses that she does not get along with herself and her environment. As soon as she gets home it goes mentally downhill with her. She can not read and write anymore. She is apatic and lethargic. She tries to take her own life. Thereafter, an odyssey begins through various psychiatric institutions.The book impressed me a lot.
  • (4/5)
    I read The Bell Jar on the recommendation of a friend who also warned me that it would be best to read it when I was in a cheery mood. She was right about that part in this one was fairly depressing. I read it over the summer while I could surround myself with sun and everything comfortable that I love. The story itself is very much based on Plath's own personal experiences and struggles with depression (and the insane 'therapy' that she was treated with). I found myself relating to her in so many ways with her descriptions of what depression feels like, having suffered from bouts of it myself. She really had a way of putting the feelings into words, and it's devastating that we lost a brilliant writer in her.
  • (5/5)
    great, simply great
  • (5/5)
    Wonderful read. Read it through in one sitting-- skipped sleep simply because I could NOT put this book down.
  • (4/5)
    I have put off reading this book for years. The descriptions, comments and reviews I had seen, while almost universally positive, made me feel that I wouldn't like the book. And in some respects, I was correct: for the first third of the book, I wasn't interested. Esther's life in New York was of a kind that I could imagine but didn't have much interest in and her interior monologues convinced me that she was a person I could not readily relate to. However, in the second half of the book, I found Esther more understandable (though never totally so). And though to my more modern sensibilities, it was upsetting that the doctors didn't try any drug therapies before electro-shock was applied, my intellect knows that this was common in that era. One thing Plath did extremely well was convey how Esther might find suicide a reasonable alternative to life committed to an asylum.
  • (5/5)
    I read this book when I was in my early 20's and could not relate. Now, 45 years later I feel her intensely. I found some humor that rivaled the dark humor of Holden Caulfield. She easily could be the female version of Holden, with less money. Sad and heartbreaking. Mental illness 60's style. If she had been a baby boomer she may have had a chance then again, maybe not.
  • (4/5)
    The story of Ester Greenwood is the story of a young girl trying to find her place in life. She wins a scholarship to work at a fashion magazine in New York and strives to live the perfect life with perfect friends, perfect career aspirations, perfect looks, and a I want it all now mentality. But running alongside her desires is the slow onslaught of mental illness, and her sinking into hopelessness and despair. The more she descends the more the bell jar encases and surrounds her sapping her strength to break free. This is quite a harrowing story make all the more real by the matter of fact unhurried story telling...."Wrapping my coat around me like my own sweet shadow, I unscrewed the bottle of pills and started taking them swiftly, between gulps of water, one by one. At first nothing happened but as I approached the bottom of the bottle, red and blue lights began to flash before my eyes. The bottle slid from my fingers and I lay down."........"I had locked myself in the bathroom, and run a tub full of warm water and taken out a Gillette blade".....The challenges of life the perception of people the need to be happy and successful all pale into insignificance when the body and mind shuts down as senses are overwhelmed. Plath's writing explores the attitudes of society towards those who suffer from mental illness and describes in some barbaric detail the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) which is still used today as a means to relieve the symptoms of mental health...."I tried to smile but my skin had gone stiff, like parchment. Doctor Gordon was fitting two metal plates on either side of my head. He buckled them into place with a strap that dented my forehead, and gave me a wire to bite"......The Glass Jar appears semi bioographical and to me is an attempt in part by the author to come to terms with her own mental issues. It is sad to note that one month after publication in the UK Sylvia Plath herself committed suicide by sticking her head in an oven in her London flat. It cannot help but make me wonder was the writing of The Glass Jar a cry for help and if so was it too little too late. The general tone and feeling of nihilism that prevails this book is best summed up in the following quote....."why I couldn't sleep and why I couldn't read and why I couldn't eat and why everything people did seemed so silly, because they only died in the end"......The Bell Jar is as powerful today as when it was first published and demands to be read if only to understand the human condition and to realize that mental health and the inevitable fallout is still very present in our everyday lives.
  • (4/5)
    A finely chiselled portrait of a depressed woman descending into madness. By the end of the story we are keenly involved in her plight, and are rooting for her to get out of the hospital and see what kind of life she can assemble.
  • (3/5)
    Feel a lot like this character at times. I particularity liked the description of being in the middle of a tornado and watching things go on around you, but you are not really taking part.
  • (1/5)
    I read this a few years back..... I hated it then. But as this is PBT, and the book got rave reviews from the literati, I thought I'd read it again to see what I might have missed.

    I didn't miss a thing. I dislike it more than I did before and it just brought back all those feelings of unhappiness, depression, & hopelessness that I got from it the first time.

    Yes, I know it was about Plath's own life. Yes, I know how much she suffered..... It was all there in black & White.

    I read for enjoyment.... I did not enjoy this account of suffering, depression, unhappiness.
  • (4/5)
    Wow.... What a profoundly beautiful and haunting book. The prose, emotions, and imagery are out of this world; it's truly a groundbreaking rally cry for mental health and feminism. I'm disappointed that it took me this long in my life to get around to reading such a classic, but I do get a sick sort of satisfaction that I'm reading this book at pretty much the same age as Plath was when she committed suicide. I'm sad she never saw this book published, although the notoriety of her suicide I'm sure helped propel this book even further since "The Bell Jar" dealt with depression and suicide. I feel like this book is a right of passage for young women. It's like "Catcher in the Rye." This book captured depression so completely and realistically, that it is honestly is making me a little depressed right now. "The Bell Jar" centers on a 19 year old college girl who seemingly has it all; she's in New York after having won a fantastic magazine award with twelve other young ladies and even though she has nothing bringing her down, she can't even bear to be complacent. Her depression grows more enveloping until her only solution is to try to get rid of it completely, by killing herself. Wow. A heavy, depressing, important read.
  • (5/5)
    The writing in this book was beautiful. It is based on Sylvia Plath's real experiences (and altered slightly for the book); it was a very eye opening view of mental health in the 60s.

    Be Wary of Some Spoilers

    The first half is really relatable for young women/people who are struggling to decide what they want to do, or where they are headed. The Fig Tree was a beautiful metaphor for that stage in life. I want to print it out and hang it in my room.

    The second half was more focused on her illness (it is never really specified as to what it is; possibly depression or bipolar disorder, some have suggested there was possibly some psychosis). It was rather dark and disturbing in some parts, particularly during the electroshock therapy. Plath does a very good job of making you feel some of the fears and anxiety she experiences during these parts.

    I love this book.
    10/10
  • (4/5)
    Very self oriented. I think if you are mentally ill you are very wrapped up in yourself.
  • (5/5)
    Quite brilliant. The Bell Jar is aptly named; in the first two thirds of the book Plath captures perfectly the sense of suffocation and stodginess that comes of the disconnection Esther finds in depression. Within this isolation Plath renders her thought processes and logic so clear that her reactions can, at times, seem almost normal, such is the extent to which we are permitted to enter into the psyche of an ill mind. Then, in the last third of the story, one really does feel the lightening sensation of recovery, the coming up for air if you will. Truly a must read, Plath portrays her era from a fascinating perspective.
  • (4/5)
    I have just finished this book by Sylvia Plath a talented author and poet and have to say I really enjoyed it. Although the content was quite harrowing to follow, A young girl in the throws of a nervous breakdown. Her thoughts on her boyfriend who she has just learned cheated on her and her role in everyday life, which she feels is not so rosy. A young girl who just can't cope with the changes in her life.It did remind me a bit of Catcher in the Rye at the start, a young person trying to come to terms with growing up in 50s America.I felt that I was drawn along with her journey downwards into her isolation and suicidal thoughts and feelings. When she is hospitalised and given shock therapy. Drawn also, as she starts to come out of the blackness and back to normality.The notes at the end of the book show that she went on to be married and have children, but it seems she was never really free of the feelings of isolation and it is sad to hear that she did eventually take her own life. So sad that so many gifted and talented people suffer from some form of mental instability.Not a light read certainly but a worthwhile one definitely!
  • (4/5)
    Great look into depression from a first person point of view that is so easy to relate to as a young adult.
  • (4/5)
    I finally got around to reading this book, and I am so glad I did. It's like a step back into the world of the 1950s. The author writes from a perspective few of us will ever have, and although it is painful to read at times, I feel as if I have a greater insight into true mental illness than I ever had before. Too bad Ms. Plath did not live to write more books.