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.
The Bell Jar Quotes in The Bell Jar
The The Bell Jar quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Bell Jar. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Perennial edition of The Bell Jar published in 2005.).
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.
...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)
...“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)