The Bell Jar Essay Topics & Ideas

Sylvia Plath described the universal fear of making the wrong choice. Her protagonist becomes paralyzed and falls into depression as she feels she is not good enough for any of her aspirations. Of course, such self-distrust and alienation from society stem from her mental illness.

Less than a year after The Bell Jar publication, its author committed suicide. She was only 30 years old. The tone of the book, its context, and setting are worth investigating.

If you need to write The Bell Jar essay, you’re in the right place. We’ve collected top questions and essay samples together with a list of The Bell Jar essay topics.

🏆 The Bell Jar Essay Questions

  1. What does the title mean in The Bell Jar?
  2. How is the theme of gender roles represented in The Bell Jar?
  3. The Bell Jar: who is the antagonist in the novel?
  4. How is Esther Greenwood similar to Sylvia Plath?
  5. What is the symbolism of the fig tree in The Bell Jar?
  6. The Bell Jar: what does the novel’s ending mean?
  7. What are the key themes in The Bell Jar?
  8. The Bell Jar: what are the symbols of depression in the novel?

💡 The Bell Jar Essay Topics with Prompts

What is a good title for a Sylvia Plath essay on The Bell Jar? Below you can find a selection of top-16 essay topics, as well as prompts to prepare for an in-class discussion or coursework.

  1. Compare the life paths of the protagonists in On the Road vs. The Bell Jar. The essay should establish the parallels in the novels by Jack Kerouac and Sylvia Plath. There is a high probability that the writers knew each other before Plath published The Bell Jar. Explore the effect of their communication on the story of Esther Greenwood.
  2. Esther is not the only character whose mental health is far from perfect. What are the other characters who show symptoms of depression or other mental illnesses? What brought them to such a condition, and what was its result? How are their destinies linked to the theme of identity in the novel?
  3. Compare any other Coming-of-age novel with The Bell Jar. The comparison essay could analyze To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Find out what makes the protagonists similar and what causes their controversy with social norms. How do they find a way out?
  4. Sylvia Plath often uses the symbol of descent. Esther attempts to kill herself in the basement of her house. She goes to the basement of the hospital to undergo electric shock therapy. What other examples of the “underworld” symbolism can you find in the text? What does the author try to illustrate through this literary technique?
  5. Esther imagined Jay Cee being her mother. Dr. Nolan also represents a motherly figure. Which of the two could become a better mother than Mrs. Greenwood? Would Esther have the same mental issues having a different mom? Which role do mothers play in our lives after we become adults?
  6. Esther is selective about her acquaintances. Which criteria does she use to allow people to approach her? Why does the protagonist want to resemble Doreen at the beginning of the story but change her mind later? What is wrong with Betsy, and why didn’t she interest Esther enough to become her friend?
  7. Describe the symbolism of water in The Bell Jar. The analysis essay should list the chapters mentioning water. Classify these instances by the level of Esther’s depression. Is there a correlation between her mental state and the depiction of water? Which epithets does the author use in relation to this substance?
  8. Explore the sexual scenes in the novel. There are four of them: Buddy, Constantin, Marco, and Irwin. All these people and their approaches were different, but was Esther’s relation to them similar? Why does the protagonist strive to lose her virginity, and how is it related to her mental suffering and identity search?
  9. Esther gradually isolates herself from society and its conventions. She does not see the point in changing her clothes or washing. She goes to the basement to commit suicide, never looking for help. Her isolation in the novel is one of the central themes. Is her behavior typical for a depressive patient? What could be done to facilitate diagnosing and treatment of people with suicidal thoughts?
  10. Analyze the conclusion of The Bell Jar. Why did the author decide to leave an open ending? Why did Sylvia Plath tell us about Joan’s suicide after she decided to become a psychiatrist? Can we suppose that the same can happen to Esther once she is released from the asylum?
  11. The first chapter of The Bell Jar is an introduction to Esther’s depression. Which signs of her starting mental illness can you notice? Make a medical report and suggest treatment that could improve Esther’s condition. Do you think there was a chance to prevent her suicide attempts?
  12. Why didn’t Esther and her mother ever grieve about Mr. Greenwood? Analyze the scene when Esther visits her dad’s grave in Chapter 13. What did the protagonist think about the years that passed since he died? Make your assumptions on why Esther made her most successful suicide attempt the following day.
  13. Make a list of Plath’s feministic ideas. She never explicitly discusses how society should look like. Imagine it was possible to amend the position of an American woman in the 1950s. Which life aspects required changing? How would family life modify thanks to these improvements?
  14. Find out the similarities between Buddy Willard and Dr. Gordon. Are they the most patriarchal figures in the novel, or can you name some other characters? Why did they repulse Esther? Which traits did they lack to become their friends or at least people she trusted?
  15. Is Esther a positive or negative character? She hates her mother and does not care about the pain she suffered, learning that her daughter attempted suicide. She does not wash for weeks and is quite rude to the medical staff. Are these traits a manifestation of Esther’s lousy character, or do they result from her mental illness?
  16. List the double standards mentioned in The Bell Jar. Do they only refer to gender inequality, or does Plath raise the issue of other discrimination kinds? Why does the author portray the Chinese nationality in a derogatory tone? Why does the author’s feminism avoid the ethnic discrimination problems?

📝 The Bell Jar Essay Examples

  1. “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath 
  2. The Bell Jar: Critical Analysis
  3. Barker’s Regeneration & Plath’s The Bell Jar: Compare & Contrast Essay

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