Symbolism in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar

Pages: 2
Words: 544


Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is a novel about a young writer herself. It reflects multiple life events: her sufferings, mental breakdown, and the attempt to fix her with glue. The story narrates Esther Greenwood, the book’s protagonist, getting an opportunity to study at a prestigious university. Writers various literary techniques in their works use to show the ambiguity of certain events or things, and sometimes of their reality. The novel correlates with Plath’s life significantly; several issues became concerns for Plath herself. This paper is focused on symbolism of a bell-jar, as a kitchen item, for the heroine’s condition.

Symbol of the Bell Jar in the Novel

The novel begins with Esther Greenwood coming to New York, as she received the opportunity to study at a luxurious university for free. However, her expectations did not match the reality; New York seemed to be a fascinating place, but it turned out to be an empty city. The author wonders whether it is possible to create a fantastic career and be a good wife and mother simultaneously (Azra et al.). The heroine understands that there is no place in society for talented and ambitious women.

As Sylvia Plath dwelled on feminism in her works, she finds the place for it in The Bell Jar (Professor Gurgoise 2). In the 1950s, there was another vision of females; they were not allowed to enter the academic world, and many talented women remained unnoticed. In The Bell Jar, women must accommodate males’ desires and standards. Men expected women to be virtuous creatures, virgins, who would obey their rules. It is possible to imagine that the bell jar symbolizes a transparent cap for women.

Moreover, Esther suffers a severe mental breakdown; it matches the female author’s life in many ways. “My mother took care never to tell me to do anything. She would only reason with me sweetly, like one mature person with another” – Plath describes the premise of her heroine’s depression (Plath 116). It shows that the heroine lacked motherly love, and possibly it became one of the reasons for Esther’s mental disorder. One of the most famous quotations of the novel is, “I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air” (Plath 183). The quote goes to the second important topic of the book – madness. In the nineteenth century, the notion of mental disorders was not familiar to doctors. Therefore, it is feasible to suggest that Esther’s mental condition was ignored, and she was captivated by her mental state. It does not matter where Esther Greenwood is; she always feels captured by the bell jar and her alienation from the world becomes more apparent with the flow of the plot.


The symbol of the bell jar means that people captured in it may scream, cry, and try to escape – everything will be useless because the glass bell jar is inescapable. People who preferred not to notice the problems of others and thus, made these people closed within the bell jar. Esther Greenwood’s psychological condition is a bell jar for her; she cannot handle it and becomes a victim of her mental state. Therefore, in Plath’s novel, the bell jar symbolizes describing people’s issues and alienation.

Works Cited

Azra, Ghandeharion, et al. “Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar: A Mirror of American Fifties.” Kata, vol. 17, no. 2, 2016. Crossref. Web.

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York, HarperCollins, 2005.

Professor Gurgoise. “The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.” Florida, United States, 2021. Lecture.