full title · The Bell Jar
author · Sylvia Plath
type of work · Novel
genre · Coming-of-age novel; autobiographical fiction
language · English
time and place written · First draft as early as 1957, Cambridge, England; completed in 1962, Devon, England
date of first publication · January 1963, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas
publisher · William Heinemann Limited (1963); Faber and Faber (first edition under Plath’s name, 1966); Harper and Row (first American edition, 1971)
narrator · Esther Greenwood
point of view · First person
tone · Matter-of-fact; cynical; terse; detached; girlish
tense · Past
setting (time) · June 1953–January 1954
setting (place) · New York City; the Boston suburbs; hospitals in and around Boston
protagonist · Esther Greenwood
major conflict · Esther struggles against her oppressive environment and encroaching madness.
rising action · Esther spends a month as a guest editor in New York. When she returns home, she finds herself unable to read, write, or sleep. She receives her first shock treatment, and contemplates methods of suicide.
climax · Esther almost succeeds in killing herself.
falling action · Esther recovers in a city hospital and then in a private mental hospital, where she finds a psychiatrist whom she can trust. After losing her virginity, she prepares to leave the hospital.
themes · Growth through pain and rebirth; the emptiness of conventional expectations; the restricted role of women in 1950s America; the perils of psychiatric medicine
motifs · News and fashion media; mirrors; blood
symbols · The bell jar; the fig tree; headlines; the beating heart
foreshadowing · Esther’s semi-suicidal plunge down the ski slopes foreshadows her later, more systematic suicide attempts.