Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar'

The Bell Jar (Faber & Faber)
The Bell Jar (Faber & Faber)

Sylvia Plath spent the summer of 1953 in New York working for Mademoiselle magazine. In the first sentence of The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood, Plath’s narrator, tells us “I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” Esther’s inability to know — to know what she was doing and whether her life was worth it — is contextualized by the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Their execution is everywhere she turns. “The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that’s all there was to read about in the papers — goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway.” Despite being the one who is free and alive, Esther feels impossibly trapped. When execution is all there is to read about, it is also all one can write about.

Sylvia Plath spent the summer of 1953 in New York working for Mademoiselle magazine. In the first sentence of The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood, Plath’s narrator, tells us “I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” Esther’s inability to know — to know what she was doing and whether her life was worth it — is contextualized by the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

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