Plath's novel offers a cynical take on the complacency of middle-class American society in the 1950s. All the markers of American prosperity – consumerism, the baby boom, global supremacy – are viewed as suffocating and stifling (for more on the historical context, check out "Setting"). The enormous pressure to conform to social standards – of femininity, for example – results in the suppression of individuality. Characters who do conform are often portrayed as unfeeling, "numb" automatons, and the similarities between the mentally ill and "normal" people are often remarked. Esther's feeling of being confined under a bell jar not only describes her depression, but also serves as a general metaphor for a society muffled into uniformity by its own norms and conventions.
The Bell Jar tackles the superficial values of 1950s American society through the perspective of a relative outsider, Esther Greenwood.
Esther Greenwood's experience shows the darker side of 1950s American society by revealing the gender inequalities and social conformity under the surface of American prosperity.