The Bell Jar

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The Bell Jar Symbol Analysis

The Bell Jar Symbol Icon
The bell jar symbolizes mental illness and gives the novel its title. It is Esther’s own metaphor for describing what she feels like while suffering her nervous breakdown: no matter what she is doing or where she is, she sits alienated “under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.” Though she can see through the transparent glass to the world beyond, the glass jar distorts the image of that world, leaving the suffering viewer with a warped understanding of reality. After undergoing electric shock therapy and analysis at the mental asylum, Esther feels the bell jar lifted. However, even as she welcomes health, she fears a future re-descent of the bell jar and wonders whether other bell jars also imprison the seemingly sane people around her.
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The Bell Jar Symbol Timeline in The Bell Jar

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bell Jar appears in The Bell Jar. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 15
Mind vs. Body Theme Icon
Medicine Theme Icon
...feels that no matter where she is, she “would be sitting under the same glass bell jar , stewing in my own sour air.” (full context)
Chapter 18
Medicine Theme Icon
...Esther agrees, as Dr. Nolan had promised: pain free. Esther feels “surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head.” Dr. Nolan assures Esther all the treatments... (full context)
Chapter 20
Mind vs. Body Theme Icon
Medicine Theme Icon
...put the past away like “a bad dream.” But, Esther thinks, “to the person in the bell jar …the world itself is the bad dream” and she can’t forget any of the experiences... (full context)
Personal Ambition Theme Icon
Medicine Theme Icon
...“calm, snow-maiden face behind which so little, bad or good, could happen.” Esther wonders if the bell jar will descend on her again on the future. She worries, too, who she will marry... (full context)