The Bell Jar is a pretty juicy read, all things considered, particularly as every once in a while a headline from one of Esther's scandal sheets will pop out on the page, interrupting the flow of regular prose. These random headlines are part of a larger concern in the novel with the way the mass media actually creates values and enforces social norms through its coverage of everything from celebrity deaths to women's issues. In The Bell Jar, references to mass media pop up everywhere as a foil to Esther's own literary studies and attempts at writing fiction in order to question the place of literature and writing in modern society.
Questions About Literature and Writing
Consider all of the different forms of writing in the book – newspapers, scandal sheets, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, the narrator's half-hearted attempt at writing a novel, just to name a few. What is the novel's attitude toward all of these forms of writing? Are some forms of writing better than others? Why?
Why are media headlines in the novel? What do they tell us about society at the time?
Consider the different characters' attitudes toward writing, including major characters, such as Mrs. Greenwood, and relatively minor characters, such as Philomena Guinea. How do these characters view the relationship between women and writing?
Chew on This
The Bell Jar chronicles a young woman's attempt to find her literary voice in a society which expects women to marry and have children, and if they do write, to write romance novels.
Through its frank exploration of a woman's struggle with depression, The Bell Jar sets itself in opposition to the way themes of depression and suicide are treated sensationally and superficially in popular culture.