The Bell Jar
Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. What is the significance of the Rosenbergs’ execution in the novel?
2. What reasons does the novel give for Esther’s madness?
3. In what way is The Bell Jar a coming-of-age story?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. What role does Esther’s memory of her father play in the story?
2. Choose a poem by Sylvia Plath and relate its imagery to the imagery of The Bell Jar.
3. The Bell Jar is both a true story and a novel. Describe the ways in which Plath selects and presents the episodes that she describes to give her narrative dramatic shape.
4. There are several recurring images in the novel, such as the bell jar, the dead baby, and the fig tree. Select one of these images and trace its occurrence from the beginning of the novel to the end, describing how its meaning evolves.
5. How does Esther’s attitude toward men change over the course of the novel? What role does this attitude play in her madness and recovery?
6. When Esther tells Dr. Nolan that she hates her mother, Dr. Nolan interprets this statement as a breakthrough in Esther’s recovery. What role does Esther’s mother play in her insanity? What does Esther’s attitude toward her mother tell us about Esther herself?
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