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The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath
Narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal
Synopsis.The Bell Jar details the life of Esther Greenwood, a college student who dreams of becoming a poet. She is selected for a month-long summer internship as a guest editor of Ladies’ Day magazine, but her time in New York City is unfulfilling as she struggles with issues of identity and societal norms. She meets two other interns who manifest contrasting views of femininity as well as Esther’s own internal conflicts: the rebellious and sexual Doreen and the wholesome and virginal Betsy. During this time, Esther thinks about her boyfriend, Buddy Willard, and her anger when he admitted that he was not a virgin, claiming to have been seduced. She believes he is a hypocrite, having acted as if she was more sexually experienced. After being rejected for a writing class, Esther must spend the rest of her summer at home with her mother; Esther’s father died when she was young. She struggles to write a novel and becomes increasingly despondent, making several half-hearted suicide attempts. She ultimately overdoses on sleeping pills but survives.
Esther is admitted to a mental institute, where she is treated by a progressive psychiatrist who, among other things, eases her concerns about premarital sex and encourages her to obtain a diaphragm. In addition, Esther undergoes electric-shock treatment, which makes her feel as if she has been freed from a bell jar. While on a night pass, Esther loses her virginity, which she sees as a millstone. When she begins hemorrhaging, she seeks the help of another patient, Joan, who goes with her to the emergency room. Shortly thereafter Joan commits suicide, and her death seems to quell Esther’s own suicidal thoughts. The novel ends with a seemingly reborn Esther about to face the examination board, which will decide if she can go home.