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The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

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.