The Bell Jar

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The Bell Jar Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath was born in 1932 and grew up on the Massachusetts coast. Her father died when she was eight. A stellar student, Plath won scholarships to attend Smith and Cambridge University, where she met and married the poet Ted Hughes. They had a rocky marriage and two children. Plath won great acclaim for her first book of poetry, The Colossus, in 1959, and published the pseudonymous The Bell Jar in 1963 to make money. Plath had suffered from mental illness throughout her life and she fell into deep depression as her marriage dissolved, eventually committing suicide in 1963. Several books of her poetry published after her death display Plath’s genius and won her a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. Plath’s works are still widely read today.
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Historical Context of The Bell Jar
The Bell Jar is set in 1950s America, a time when American society was predominantly shaped by conservative values and patriarchic structures. It was a society that placed particular restraints on women as it expected them to embody traditional ideals of purity and chastity and to aspire to the life of a suburban mother and homemaker rather than pursuing their own careers. Many women, like Esther Greenwood, felt crushed by the expectations 1950s American society placed on them. Their resentment of these pressures was one of the motivating forces that inspired the feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
Other Books Related to The Bell Jar
Though The Bell Jar is a classic American coming-of-age novel, Plath’s most highly regarded works are her books of poetry, including The Colossus, Ariel, and Collected Poems. These poems share some of the themes of The Bell Jar as they explore issues of mortality, sanity, and womanhood, but they are ultimately much wider ranging than the novel and present a complex, intricate vision of many sorts of life experiences.
Key Facts about The Bell Jar
  • Full Title: The Bell Jar
  • When Written: 1957-1962
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1963
  • Literary Period: post-WWII fiction
  • Genre: Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel)
  • Setting: New York City; greater Boston area
  • Climax: Esther’s suicide attempt
  • Point of View: First person
Extra Credit for The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath’s Own Elly Higginbottom. The Bell Jar was originally published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in order to protect the real-life figures Plath had based some of The Bell Jar’s characters on.

Ghost Titles. Before settling on The Bell Jar, Plath considered titling the novel Diary of a Suicide or The Girl in the Mirror.