What Is The Bell Jar about?

The Bell Jar describes a story of a 19-year-old girl who went to New York for an internship at a magazine. This experience could have inspired her but results in a severe depressive episode. She survives several suicide attempts. However, by the end of the book, the protagonist’s condition improves.

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At the end of the college year, Esther Greenwood wins an internship at a famous fashion magazine in New York. This event offers a month full of exciting opportunities, parties, and fashion shows. Any other girl would have been on cloud nine.  

Still, Esther cannot enjoy this period. She avoids people and prefers staying alone. The rare occasions of her social interactions are mostly unsuccessful. She goes on blind dates with dull or abusive men. When Jay Cee, her boss, asks her what she wants to do in her life, Esther cannot give a clear answer and starts crying.

The protagonist struggles with double standards applied to men and women in 1950s’ America. She wonders why men can lead sexual life before marriage without anyone criticizing them. Then Esther imagines herself sitting under a fig tree. Each fruit represents a life choice. She could become a world traveler, athlete, or writer. But she keeps on sitting there, watching the figs rot and fall to her feet uneaten. It is the most symbolic episode in the book. 

All these inner controversies bring Esther to the verge of suicide. Luckily, doctors manage to save her. By the end of the book, she is ready to leave the psychiatric asylum and return to college. The reader is left to wonder if she will ever return to her depression. 

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