I have finally read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and now I know what all the fuss is about. This semi-autobiographical book was published in 1963 by Plath shortly before she committed suicide. The book is often found on banned or censored book lists because it is thought that impressionable people will want to kill themselves if they read it.
I don't deny that the book is disturbing, especially understanding the proximity of its publication and Plath's death, and I would never foist this book on anyone who didn't think they could handle reading it. Yet the book is so well-written and the story itself is quite compelling. Several of the reviews I read seemed to miss an important aspect of the book. Esther Greenwood, the main character, did have a mental breakdown just like Plath did in her late teens, but she didn't breakdown because her father died or because her mother was over-bearing. She didn't end up in a mental institute because she didn't fit the model of a "nice" girl. She had a mental breakdown because she was chemically imbalanced and was probably bipolar. As I read the book I was fascinated by the way Plath wrote about this spiral down to debilitating depression. Esther got so depressed that she didn't want to bathe and she kept her pajamas on under her clothes so she wouldn't have to bother putting them on at bedtime. At the same time she is making grandiose plans of writing a novel, traveling in Europe, and finishing her thesis ahead of schedule.
I think that this book is very instructive about the confused thinking of many people living with untreated mental illnesses. A side note, the story takes place in the early to mid 1950s. It does have a historical fiction feel to it. Life in the '50s was different than today! Among them, Esther talked about taking all college girls using Dexedrine (prescription uppers like Speed) like it was no big deal. From what I know of these types of drugs they certainly could have been contributing factors to the mental breakdown.
"I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.
I am, I am, I am." ---p. 243
So if you haven't read The Bell Jar do I think you should? Yes! The book had me from the first sentence and I think it still has a lot to say to us in the Twenty-first Century.