Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “The Bell Jar” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath offer a short summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics for Sylvia Plath's “The Bell Jar” below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Bell Jar as a Coming-of-Age Novel
For most adolescents, the coming-of-age period is challenging and painful. For Esther Greenwood in “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, however, coming-of-age is literally life-threatening. As she notices the differences between herself and her friends and attempts to find meaning in her life, Esther contemplates suicide and then makes several unsuccessful attempts to end her life using various means. The source of Esther’s discontent, however, is never entirely clear. Identify (textually) some of the situations and feelings that cause Esther distress and explain why this time of her life was so difficult for her. You may wish to engage the issue of mental illness, explaining how it complicates her passage through this turbulent period of her life. Finally, address how Esther ultimately makes it through this rough passage. Assess whether she has come-of-age successfully, despite her hardships in “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #2: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of The Bell Jar
Clearly, the psychological distress which Esther experiences is the dominant motif in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, and the process of psychiatric treatment consumes a significant portion of the narrative. Beyond a facile assessment of the strengths and limitations of Esther’s treatment, there are a number of underlying dynamics that are worth exploring using a psychoanalytic framework. Writing an essay on “The Bell Jar” from this perspective requires a particular knowledge of some of the basic tenets of psychoanalysis; if you possess this knowledge, some areas worth examining are: the influence that the death of Esther’s father and the relationship with her mother may have had on the development of her illness; Esther’s developmental deficits (i.e.: Using one developmental theorist’s framework, explain how/why Esther faced a developmental crisis); the quality of Esther’s interpersonal relationships (specifically address psychodynamic concepts such as projection, introjection, and the like); or a Freudian interpretation of Esther’s suicide attempts using the theory of wish fulfillment.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Images and Symbols of Life and Death in “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
Images and symbols of life and death pervade The Bell Jar. While the most obvious images and symbols of death are those related to Esther’s suicide attempts, there are a number of more subtle images, including that of the fig tree and its ripe, life-filled fruit turning black and dropping to the ground. Select a single image, such as the fig tree, or a cluster of less significant images, and explain their significance to the story. Explore what these images mean to Esther, and how they keep her connected to reality. Address the final images with which the reader is left at the end of the novel, and assess what they might suggest about Esther’s prognosis.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Female Ideal in “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar is heavily populated with female characters, representing a range of female stereotypes. There are the cheerful college co-eds who are eager to experience New York fully, the blunted affect peers at the mental institution, and, among others, a successful supervisor in the magazine office and a compassionate and capable psychiatrist who could serve as positive role models. Initially, Esther compares herself against each of these groups or individuals, and often finds herself lacking. Yet Esther rejects almost every possible model of womanhood that is offered to her, struggling to define her own ideas of what it means to be a woman. Write an essay in which you trace the development of Esther’s ideas about womanhood. Include an explanation about the process by which Esther has come to understand what the female ideal is for herself by the novel’s end.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5 The Symbol of the Bell Jar
The simple title and image of The Bell Jar belies the multiple meanings that this image can impose on the novel. As an object, a bell jar is a glass container which holds a specimen. As a symbolic representation of an emotional state, the bell jar can take on a wide range of meanings, including the feeling of being trapped and the sense of being watched or studied, to name just two possible interpretations. Select one or more passages in which Esther makes a direct reference to the bell jar, and use these excerpts to offer your insight about what this symbol means to Esther. At the novel’s end, Esther reports to the reader that the bell jar has lifted and she can go forward with her life; however, she leaves open the possibility that the bell jar could descend again. Explain why you think the bell jar will trap Esther again, or why you believe she is free forever.
This list of important quotations from “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Bell Jar” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs in “The Bell Jar” than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath they are referring to.
“I knew something was wrong with me that summer, because all I could think about was the Rosenbergs and how stupid I’d been to buy all those uncomfortable, expensive clothes…and how all the little successes I’d totted up so happily at college fizzled to nothing… along Madison Avenue." (1-2)
“I guess I should have been excited, the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn’t get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty…moving dully along…." (2)
“Girls like that make me sick. I’m so jealous I can’t speak….It was my first big chance, but here I was, sitting back and letting it run through my fingers like so much water." (3)
“Jay Cee had brains, so her plug-ugly looks didn’t seem to matter. She read a couple of languages and knew all the quality writers in the business." (5)
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked….I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet." (62-63)
“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 day had suddenly snapped up, and I could see day after day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue." (104)
“I would simply have to ambush [my body] with whatever sense I had left, or it would trap me in its stupid cage for fifty years without any sense at all. And when people found out my mind had gone,…they would… put me into an asylum where I could be cured. Only my case was incurable." (130)
“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream." (193)
“What was there about us, in Belsize, so different from the girls playing bridge and gossiping and studying in the college to which I would return? Those girls, too, sat under bell jars of a sort." (194)
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am." (198).
Reference: Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. <