The Bell Jar Points to Ponder

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath Menu

Think about the title of the book. Technically, a “bell jar” is a “bell-shaped glass vessel designed to cover objects or to contain gases or a vacuum.” Why does the narrator describe her madness in this way? What is it about her life specifically which makes her feel like she’s in a vacuum? Why is this chosen as the title of the book? Can you think of alternate titles?

How does your interpretation of the book change based on your knowledge of Plath’s biography? Can it be read without the knowledge that it is almost wholly autobiographical, or is that knowledge vital to understanding it? Does the knowledge that Plath eventually does kill herself add or detract from the book’s power?

The structure of the plot is basically linear, meaning it follows the progress of the narrator as she moves forward in time. But on the other hand, the story is also filled with lots of memories and flashbacks and some parts of the story, like almost all of her interactions with Buddy, for example, are told as flashbacks rather than from the present moment. Why do you think Plath chooses to start her story during Esther’s summer in New York rather than earlier? And some important events are revealed very slowly, so it takes the reader a long time to understand what happened, like the story of Buddy’s “hypocrisy.” What effect does this have on the reader, and why do you think Plath does this?