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Why “The Bell Jar” Is an Essential Read for Every Woman in Her Twenties

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Washington chapter.

*** TW: Mentions of Suicide and Self Harm

Your twenties are a pivotal time of self-discovery and growth, marked by new experiences in friendships, careers, and decision-making that seem life-changing. Simply put, it is a decade of transformation, accompanied by everyday anxieties and stressors of academic, work, and personal pursuits. Although I have just stepped onto the winding path of my twenties, whenever I grapple with the decision-making, choices, and the overall anxiety that comes with being a woman at this stage of life, my mind often wanders to the words of Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar.

The Bell Jar tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a talented young writer who has just secured an internship at a New York fashion magazine. But although trying her best to fit in, she finds herself adrift in the big city, unable to fit into the limiting gender roles of her time. Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown, leading her to her eventual suicide attempt. As a poet first and a novelist second, Plath’s word choice plays on the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche, unlike anything I have read before. The book is thought to be more distressing as it shares similarities to Plath’s own life dealing with depression and journey towards suicide recovery. 

Though written in the 1960s, Plath’s words wield enduring power, revealing surprising progressiveness as the novel delves into societal norms for women, resistance to marriage, and ambitions in her career as a writer. Overall, it echoes many of the hardships women face surrounding mental health. One of my favorite quotes, the fig tree passage, vividly portrays the struggle of decision-making that resonates with many lives:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. Like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked from the tip of every branch. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children; another was a famous poet and… I wanted every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet”.

This quote, to me, is the essence of being in your twenties, highlighting the era of choices and the inevitable trade-offs of each path one ultimately decides. This imagery beautifully captures the complexities of decision-making and the anticipation of making pivotal choices in one of the most crucial points of your life. The societal norm of “deciding a career” often imposes pressure, especially for women with conversations surrounding motherhood. However, in reality, one should be able to explore every pursuit they desire and every life or “fig” they envision for themselves. However, the pressure to make decisions looms like a shadow, urging one to choose a path before time runs out. The heavy pressure Esther feels here, I believe, can resonate with many women in their twenties. Overall, I encourage women to read this, as this example is just a small part of the myriad conversations Plath sheds light on regarding the complexities of life’s choices for women.

I should also warn you that if you do choose to indulge in this book as I did, getting a glimpse into Esther’s mind does come with some triggering topics surrounding suicide ideation and self-harm. While it offers valuable insights into the complexities of mental illness, it can be emotionally taxing for some readers, especially those who have had similar experiences or are sensitive to such themes. 

Naomi Hailu

Washington '25

Naomi, a third-year student at the University of Washington is a double major in Law, Societies, and Justice and Political Science. She is deeply passionate about various aspects of law and social justice. Post-graduation she plans to attend law school to tackle gaps in the justice system while exploring her interests in writing and journalism through platforms like HER Campus.