The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

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Group Members:
Natalie Stern
Taylor Sisk
Lydia Ruetty
Chloe Brant
Marita O'Neill

Discussion Location: Ms. O'Neill's room 508

Discussion Questions


1) What do you think causes Esther's breakdown?
2) What character do you think has the biggest impact on Esther's life and why?
3) Why do you think Esther has such a hard time with men and relationships?
4) How do you think Joan's suicide impacts Esther's life?
5) Does Esther change from the beginning of the book to the end? How?
6) Did the setting of The Bell Jar have an effect on Esther's insanity?
7) Why do you think it is so important to Esther that she evens things out with Buddy after finding out that he slept with someone 30 times?

Clarifying Questions:

1) What does the "Bell Jar" symbolize?
2) How parallel is this novel to Sylvia Plath's actual life?
3) What does the "Beating Heart" symbolize?


1) How do the themes of depression and a search for meaning relate to each other in this novel?
2) How is pain portrayed in The Bell Jar, and what other themes are in the book?


1) The major conflict of the story is how Esther struggles with her madness and the people and things around her.

Probing Questions:

1) What do you think is the significance of the quote on the back of the novel: "I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo?"

2) Esther Talks about a fig tree on page 77. What does the fig tree symbolize?

Significant Quotes to Discuss:

1) "I felt like a racehorse in a world without racetracks or a champion collage footballer suddenly confronted by Wall Street and a business suit, his days of glory shrunk to a little gold cup on his mantel with a date engraved on it like the date on a tombstoneā€ (77).

2) "I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes, and separating one box from another was sleep, like a black shade. Only for me, the long perspective of shades that set off one box from the next had suddenly snapped up, and I could see day after day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue. It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next" (128).

3) "When they asked me what I wanted to be I said I didn't know. 'Oh sure you know,' the photographer said.' I said I wanted to be a poet. 'She wants,' said Jay Cee wittily, 'to be everything'" (101).

4) "Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one's ashes, the gray scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, the the dark heart of New York" (111).

5) "That morning I had made a start. I had locked myself in the bathroom, and run a tub full of warm water, and taken out a Gillete blade. When they asked some old Roman philosopher or other how he wanted to die, he said he would open his veins in a warm bath. I thought it would be easy, lying in the tub and seeing the redness flower from my wrists, flush after flush through the clear water, till I sank to deep sleep under a surface gaudy as poppies" (147).

6) "Cobwebs touched my face with the softness of moths. Wrapping my black coat round me like my own sweet shadow, I unscrewed the bottle of pills and started taking them swiftly, between gulps of water, one by one. At first nothing happened, but as I approached the bottom of the bottle, red and blue lights began to flash before my eyes. The bottle slid from my fingers and I lay down" (169).

Outside Resources:

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath (printed copies will be provided).

Sylvia Plath Biography. 6th paragraph
Book Review
Really good background and about the book
Sylvia Plath