The Bell Jar is most often classified as Coming-of-age fiction. But it is also an autobiographic novel with fictional elements. The writing contains extensive passages of self-analysis of the main character. For this reason, The Bell Jar is also a novel in the genre of psychological realism.
There are three genre categories The Bell Jar falls under. They are Coming-of-age fiction, autobiographic novel, and psychological realism. All the three variants are equally correct, depending on which aspect the literary study focuses.
First, the novel describes the transition of a 19-year-old girl from naïve adolescence to self-reliant adulthood. She struggles with finding out her identity and other people’s opinions about what is right and wrong. Sylvia Plath uses these inner controversies to criticize American patriarchal society and its flaws. In this relation, The Bell Jar is comparable to such Coming-of-age novels as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
Second, Sylvia Plath wrote her fictionalized autobiography. She was also an intern at a fashion magazine in the summer of 1953, had a suicide attempt, and went through electric shock therapy. Plath’s mother objected to the novel’s publication in America after Sylvia’s death. Most likely, the book contained too much truth about her relationship with her daughter. This aspect makes the writing comparable to On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
Third, The Bell Jar is written as psychological realism. It resembles a diary. Esther Greenwood traces her feelings and thoughts with scientific precision but describes them with artistic imagery. Her determination to kill herself shocks the reader. These features make the story resemble the literary works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Henry James.
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