Book Review: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Winner of a scholarship that has catapulted away from her small town home and into the heart of New York City, Esther Greenwood appears to have the world at her feet in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, the only trouble is, everything she has spent her young life working towards no longer seems to matter.

As Esther’s existential crisis sees her fortunes plummet to astonishing depths, one fears for her future and the fact that this suddenly bleak outlook is caused by nothing more than indecision is all the more alarming. Esther’s plight highlights the precarious situations those guilty of perhaps the most understandable of crimes: not knowing what they want to do with their life by the end of their teenage years; can find themselves in and how quickly their prospects can diminish following a simple bout of indecision.

The sudden horror Esther is plunged into when she has a change of heart about her future is perhaps more relevant today, over half a century on from publication than ever before, as with University tuition fees at an all-time high, the price of indecision among young people has never been more costly.

Esther’s story underlines the caution that should be exercised when setting expectations for young people, most of whom are still some distance off finding their way in the world. And an acknowledgment among teachers, employers and parents alike that it is far more common for young adults to be undecided about their futures than it is for them to have their entire life mapped out by nineteen, would go a long way towards ensuring that society does not become riddled with contemporary Esther Greenwoods.

Rating: 4/5 Thought-provoking, chilling and masterfully written. Thoroughly deserving of its status as a post-war classic.

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