The Bell Jar
Author Sylvia Plath
Type of work Novel
Genre Coming-of-age novel; autobiographical fiction
Time and place written First draft as early as 1957,
Cambridge, England; completed in 1962, Devon,
Date of first publication January 1963, under the pseudonym
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
Setting (time) June 1953–January 1954
Setting (place) New York City; the Boston suburbs; hospitals in and
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
Foreshadowing Esther’s semi-suicidal plunge down the ski slopes foreshadows her
later, more systematic suicide attempts.