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Submitted Literature

The Bell Jar

By Sylvia Plath


Plath’s well-known “The Bell Jar” charts, in a semi-fictionalised form, her own descent into depressive illness, her suicide attempt and struggle to exist within a world constrained by conflicting familial and societal expectations of femininity and the emergent Women’s Movement.

Key Themes:

  • Creativity and Madness
  • Depression
  • Revealing Reads
  • Self-Injury
  • Suicidality

Significant Quotes / Pages

142 – “But when it came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defenceless that I couldn’t do it.  It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn’t in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get at.

It would take two motions.  One wrist, then the other wrist.  Three motions, if you counted changing the razor from hand to hand. Then I would step into the tub and lie down.

I moved in front of the medicine cabinet.  If I looked in the mirror while I did it, it would be like watching somebody else, in a book or a play.

That the person in the mirror was paralysed and too stupid to do a thing.

Then I thought, maybe I ought to spill a little blood for practice, so I sat on the edge of the tub and crossed my right ankle over my left knee.  Then I lifted my right hand with the razor and let it drop of its own weight, like a guillotine, on to the calf of my leg.

I felt nothing.  Then I felt a small, deep thrill, and a bright seam of red welled up at the lip of the slash.  The blood gathered darkly, like fruit, and rolled down my ankle into the cup of my black patents leather shoe.”

178 – “I couldn’t feel a thing.  If Mrs Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air."

Reference: Sylvia, Plath. 1963. The Bell Jar. New York: Bantam, 1963


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Monday 23rd March 2009