This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath’s story of a young woman slowly descending into depression is beautiful in a tragic way. Esther Greenwood seems to have everything going for her, and as a smart, talented college girl who won a scholarship to a prestigious New York magazine for part of the summer, it’s difficult for the reader to imagine why she is not as excited about her life as her co-scholarship winners seem to be. So many of the events of the book parallel those of Plath’s own life (Plath also struggled with depression) and so there is an intangible sense of credibility to the description of the inner workings of Esther’s downward spiral. The reader gets to hear the inner thoughts of Esther throughout her period in NYC, her time at home with her parents, and even her institutionalization. It’s the kind of story that makes one a little more able to understand what’s happening to someone who is depressed (much like these two blog posts from Hyperbole and a Half – note: there’s some “strong language” in those posts, if you’re sensitive to that).
Besides when Esther lives in NYC for her scholarship at the beginning of the book, most of the story takes place in Massachusetts, where she grew up. The landscape and the inherent pressures of the northeast cling to the pages, both implicit and explicit in the work. I think it’s a great fit for the 50Nifty list, and not just because I really liked reading it!