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Sylvia Plath And The Bell Jar Essay

, Research Paper

In The Bell Jar, originally published under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas, Sylvia Plath

was recording much of her personal experience. Plath was born on October 27, 1932. Her

brother, Warren Joseph Plath, was born in 1935. When Plath was five years old, her family

moved to Winthrop, Massachusetts, where she was a model student. However, in 1940, her

father Otto Plath died of pneumonia and complications from diabetes. Plath won many awards,

both local and national, for her writing in the years after her father’s death. During her teens, she

met a classmate named Richard Willard. Later, she dated his older brother, Buddy. In 1950,

Sylvia Plath entered Smith College in Nothampton, Massachusetts. While she was there, Buddy

Willard asked her to the Yale prom.

When Sylvia was twenty years old, she won the Mademoiselle fiction contest, and during

the summer of 1953, she was a guest editor at Mademoiselle. Later that summer, Plath attempted

suicide with sleeping pills. She was found and taken to Newton-Wellesley Hospital. For the

remaining part of that year, she resided at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, and was

treated with insulin and electro-shock therapy. In The Bell Jar, Plath does not write about her life

after this point.

Plath returned to Smith and graduated in 1955. She moved to London, where she met

Ted Hughes. She married him, and they returned to the U.S. in 1957. In the next two years, Ms.

Plath held a hospital clerical position after she quit her instructor job at Smith. She did this in

order to devote more time to writing. The last few years of Sylvia Plath’s life were very busy.

She moved back to England with her husband and had a girl in the spring of 1960. The following

year was difficult because she had both a miscarriage and an appendectomy. In early 1962, she

gave birth to a baby boy, but a few months later, her husband left her. She then moved to London

and wrote The Bell Jar. On February 11, 1963, Sylvia Plath committed suicide in her London

home by turning on the gas jets.

Sylvia suffered from a lack of helpful support. There were no good support systems in her

life. Her mother did not understand her, and her father was dead. She had no attractive role

models to follow, in her opinion. In the book, Esther does not want to be like her mother and

teach shorthand. Ms. Plath did not get much help from the professional world. In her journal, she

wrote that she was unable to sleep during the last winter that she lived in London. Her British

doctor prescribed sleeping pills, “the cure-all for everything”. Sylvia Plath could have well been a

victim of multiple failures created by the historical era in which she lived.

Until the 1970’s, American literature did not have a great many female heroines in its

fiction works, and even fewer had been created by female authors. In short, there were no

woman writers creating women characters who spoke their minds. The main year of Esther’s life

in the story is 1953, before the popularity of the birth control pill, women’s liberation, and other

social movements in the 1960’s.

Esther reached maturity in the early 1950’s when Women’s roles were rigidly assigned.

American women fell into two groups: the good girls and the bad girls. The good girls married

well and had two or three children. They cooked proper and nutritious meals while keeping the

house spotless, and in their spare time, they would attend PTA meetings. The good girls made

dutiful wives. The bad girls, on the other hand, were sexy, bosomy, and blonde. They did not

marry the proper men (doctors, lawyers, etc.). There was also a group of women who were not

really considered women. They often held low-paying jobs, such as librarians and social workers.

These women were bright, yet doomed in society because they did not try to get the attention of


The Bell Jar also gives the audience a quite moving and probably very accurate account of

mental health treatment in the 1950’s. Electro-shock therapy was very common during that

decade, but nowadays, it is only rarely used. In conclusion, during the time of the novel, there is

clearly not much encouragement for women to be individual, to be different, and to be brave and

daring. For this reason, Esther Greenwood was pushed to insanity, for society could not accept