Summary: The Bell Jar opens with Esther Greenwood, a clever nineteen year old girl working as an intern at a well-known women’s magazine in New York City. Despite her seemingly wonderful life, success, and academic achievements, Esther often feels overwhelming senses of alienation and looks to her future with a sense of hopelessness in fear of becoming a docile housewife. These traits of early signs of depression soon became inflamed by her desire to conform to social expectations of what a young woman should be - a virgin until marriage, but a mother and wife after. Admonished by her boss about not having a clear focus of her career, she goes on an array of dates. Sadly, the last of her dates attempts to assault her, but Esther escapes and returns to her mother’s home in the suburbs the next morning.
While Esther is with her mother, she discovers that she had not been accepted into the summer creative writing program she applied to, which sends her spiraling into a deeper, suicidal depression. She soon cannot write or read, and sleep. Esther consults Dr. Gordon, who messes up her electroshock therapy, which puts her into a very unstable state of depression. This causes her to decide to end her life, so she hides herself away under her home and ingests a whole bottle of sleeping pills. Fortunately, she is saved a few days later. After staying at several hospitals, Esther gets put into a private psychiatric institution, where she is introduced to a very compassionate female doctor, Dr. Nolan. She gives Esther several, now successful, electroshock and insulin therapy sessions. Also at the institution, she reunites with Joan, an old friend from high school who had also dated Buddy.
As Esther was recovering, she had a sexual encounter with a professor she met at Cambridge which caused her to hemorrhage. Joan, who was currently living at Cambridge, aids her to the hospital. Esther and Joan return to the institution the next day. Esther’s condition improves again, but sadly Joan commits suicide. Esther views Joan’s death as a wasted life. The book ends with Esther entering her exit interview, which determines whether or not she’s stable enough to leave.
Theme: The Bell Jar’s main conflict is surrounded around the expectations that everyone has for Esther in regards to her future and behavior, along with the expectations that Esther has for those surrounding her and how she had failures to meet these expectations, which contributed to Esther’s downfall into severe depression. For her entire life she is surrounded by these standards and cannot escape them, even in the mental hospital. In the mental hospital and of Esther’s mother, the greatest societal concern is that the patients will not be accepted anywhere because of their mental illnesses and will be out casted.
When Esther receives help for her depression in the psychiatric institution, she is given surprising remedies such as shock therapy. Shock therapy is given to patients so they can...