In The Bell Jar, originally published under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas,Sylvia Plath was recording much of her personal experience. Plath was born onOctober 27, 1932. Her brother, Warren Joseph Plath, was born in 1935. When Plathwas five years old, her family moved to Winthrop, Massachusetts, where she was amodel student.
However, in 1940, her father Otto Plath died of pneumonia andcomplications from diabetes. Plath won many awards, both local and national, forher writing in the years after her father’s death. During her teens, she met aclassmate named Richard Willard. Later, she dated his older brother, Buddy.
In1950, Sylvia Plath entered Smith College in Nothampton, Massachusetts. While shewas there, Buddy Willard asked her to the Yale prom. When Sylvia was twentyyears old, she won the Mademoiselle fiction contest, and during the summer of1953, she was a guest editor at Mademoiselle. Later that summer, Plath attemptedsuicide with sleeping pills. She was found and taken to Newton-WellesleyHospital. For the remaining part of that year, she resided at McLean Hospital inBelmont, Massachusetts, and was treated with insulin and electro-shock therapy.
In The Bell Jar, Plath does not write about her life after this point. Plathreturned to Smith and graduated in 1955. She moved to London, where she met TedHughes. She married him, and they returned to the U.S. in 1957. In the next twoyears, Ms. Plath held a hospital clerical position after she quit her instructorjob at Smith. She did this in order to devote more time to writing. The last fewyears of Sylvia Plath’s life were very busy. She moved back to England with herhusband and had a girl in the spring of 1960.
The following year was difficultbecause she had both a miscarriage and an appendectomy. In early 1962, she gavebirth to a baby boy, but a few months later, her husband left her. She thenmoved to London and wrote The Bell Jar. On February 11, 1963, Sylvia Plathcommitted suicide in her London home by turning on the gas jets. Sylvia sufferedfrom a lack of helpful support. There were no good support systems in her life.
Her mother did not understand her, and her father was dead. She had noattractive role models to follow, in her opinion. In the book, Esther does notwant to be like her mother and teach shorthand. Ms. Plath did not get much helpfrom the professional world. In her journal, she wrote that she was unable tosleep during the last winter that she lived in London. Her British doctorprescribed sleeping pills, “the cure-all for everything”. Sylvia Plathcould have well been a victim of multiple failures created by the historical erain which she lived. Until the 1970’s, American literature did not have a greatmany female heroines in its fiction works, and even fewer had been created byfemale authors.
In short, there were no woman writers creating women characterswho spoke their minds. The main year of Esther’s life in the story is 1953,before the popularity of the birth control pill, women’s liberation, and othersocial movements in the 1960’s. Esther reached maturity in the early 1950’s whenWomen’s roles were rigidly assigned. American women fell into two groups: thegood girls and the bad girls. The good girls married well and had two or threechildren. They cooked proper and nutritious meals while keeping the housespotless, and in their spare time, they would attend PTA meetings. The goodgirls made dutiful wives.
The bad girls, on the other hand, were sexy, bosomy,and blonde. They did not marry the proper men (doctors, lawyers, etc.). Therewas also a group of women who were not really considered women. They often heldlow-paying jobs, such as librarians and social workers. These women were bright,yet doomed in society because they did not try to get the attention of men.
The Bell Jar also gives the audience a quite moving and probably very accurateaccount of mental health treatment in the 1950’s. Electro-shock therapy was verycommon during that decade, but nowadays, it is only rarely used. In conclusion,during the time of the novel, there is clearly not much encouragement for womento be individual, to be different, and to be brave and daring. For this reason,Esther Greenwood was pushed to insanity, for society could not accept her.