« Mending your Scores at Mid-term | Main | The "SUPER" Final Draft - Writing is a Process! »

March 28, 2007

If I Could Save Time in a Bottle - Thinking about Title Choices

Image Source: http://www.mouseandmore.com/images/lithos/BBrose.jpg


What is a 'bell jar'? More importantly, . . .

. . . why do you think that Sylvia Plath named her one and only novel "The Bell Jar"?

Please provide your best guess/theory below. Be sure to use examples from the text, if you can, to substantiate your claims.

I look forward to reading your replies!


P.S. For those of you interested in music (with a bit of a romantic streak), here's a song by Ryan Adams about Sylvia Plath. Feel free to comment on this too, if you get the notion.

P.P.S. To see other discussions on The Bell Jar, see THIS English-Blog post

Posted by lhobbs at March 28, 2007 02:19 PM

Readers' Comments:

Brooke Decker
Dr. Lee Hobbs
English Humanities Literature 121.003
28, March 2007

The Bell Jar

Why did Plath decide to call her novel the Bell Jar? Chapter 18

First off A Bell Jar is a bell shaped jar that lets moisture in our out. An I believe that Sylvia Plath decided to call her novel The Bell Jar because Esther was put into a special ward because she tried to kill herself, and she was in there for awhile. I believe that this stands for disappointment, and fear for Esther because she doesn’t want to be in the special ward or hospital because she feels as if she is fine. Esther is then released out of the special ward and the bell jar is lifted and she states that she can feel the fresh air circulating around her, and the heat and fear has purged itself (Plath 216). Now that she is released from the special ward she can feel the fresh air, and have no more worries and go back to college perhaps. This is why I think Plath decided to call her novel The Bell Jar, it stood for anger, fear, and disappointment in Esther’s life.


Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. 1963. Pseudonym: Victoria Lucas. New York: Bantam, 1978

Until next class

Posted by: Brooke Decker at March 28, 2007 04:07 PM

Professor Hobbs,
I think that the title of the Sylvia Plath's book symbolizes her depression. As if she is stuck inside of the bell jar. This bell jar has trapped her in her own mind. All of her mental illnesses have kept her bottled up. When she has therapy, it has releaved her of the illnesses and has taken the jar from over her. So I guess I can say that I think that the bell jar is her depression.

Posted by: Donnetta Allen at March 28, 2007 04:30 PM

Professor Hobbs,

I beleive the bell jar represents Esther's whole entire life. Esther suffocates herself into this jar, with all her problems. Her whole life is focused and mingled into this jar and she has no where to escape. She constantly shelters herself from the outside world, into the jar. By doing this she is not letting anyone in as well as not letting anyone help her with her problems. Considering the jar does not let any air escape nor get it. Because of this she is trapped inside the jar with all her issues. Inside the jar, Esther sees the world in a different perspective rather than everyone else would normally see the world. Due to this she faces more problems then any other normal person would. Overall i beleive when Esther stated in chapter 18, when the jar was removed she was able to breath again and have another chance for a better life. However, she still feels that any moment she may fail in life and be trapped in the bell jar again.

Posted by: April Hunsberger at March 28, 2007 09:30 PM


Professor Hobbs,

A bell jar is a container in which delicate objects are concealed. It can also be considered an instrument used to contain gases or it can be used as a vacuum in various scientific experiments. Sylvia Plath may have named her only novel The Bell Jar because she felt so secluded from the rest of the world. I think Sylvia Plath suffered from bipolar depression; she was in a constant state of confliction, both within herself and with society, and she proved this throughout the novel using Esther Greenwood. Esther was very insecure; she rarely found positive aspects in her life. Esther couldn’t be the ideal 1950s woman-a smart, happy, and self-sufficient person. Esther struggled to find people and things that she could relate to that were positive. In chapter 13, she recalled a play in detail because the son in the story was going insane. The Rosenberg’s interested her also, because she could relate to their situation. These were people that could join her in the bell jar, because they shared a similar perception on life.
When I have a bad day, I often choose to separate myself from others. Sylvia felt that way everyday, that no matter what she did she was different from the “norm”. A bell jar often keeps an object such as a flower from the harshness of the outside world, but in Sylvia’s case, she was inside the jar with her madness while the rest of the world seemed pure.

English 121.003 MWF 11;45-12:45

Posted by: Jen Naugle at March 28, 2007 09:53 PM

28 March 2007
Professor Hobbs-

According to freedictionary.com a bell jar is, “a bell-shaped glass cover used to protect and display delicate objects or to cover scientific apparatus or to contain gases.” I think that Sylvia Plath named her novel The Bell Jar as a symbol of her mental health. Throughout the novel the “bell jar” idea is referenced by Esther as she struggles with her sanity. For Plath I think that the use of the bell jar was to symbolize her feelings of containment and entrapment as she tried to fight with her inner consciousness. Plath probably anted to emphasize that her mental health was very delicate and Esther’s mind was the object being enclosed by the “bell jar” and kept separate from the environment. When Esther gets her shock treatments done and remarks that she feels better mentally, she also makes the comment that the bell jar had been lifted. I think that when Esther could feel the pressure of her life, the bell jar overcame her and she became trapped by her own insanity. Plath used the bell jar object to signify a major overall theme of feelings of helplessness against being overtaken by the mind.

Bettina Herold
ENGL121.003 Hum. Lit.

Posted by: Bettina Herold at March 28, 2007 10:33 PM

The Bell Jar

In literal terms a bell jar is a bell shaped glass cover that does not let air in or out. I believe Sylvia Plath named her novel The Bell Jar because that is what Esther was living in. Esther says to herself on page 185 “wherever I sat… I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air”. Esther was in hospitals because she was severally depressed. This depression was the bell jar that was holding her back from breathing and being free. She could not release herself from her own prison.
I think this was her only novel because it was a way for her to vent and keep her distance from her own bell jar she once lived in.

Greg Crossland

Posted by: Greg Crossland at March 28, 2007 10:47 PM

Shayne Schmidt
Engl 121

Why did Plath call her novel, “The Bell Jar”?

One reason Palth could of called her novel, “The Bell Jar” is because in chapter 18 Esther says that the bell jar was lifted above her head and she felt free. She says that she was open to circulating air which was a great feeling for her. Being let outside when confined for a period of time can bring a sense of freedom to an individual. When let outside for the first time in a while it seems like a privilege that one gains a whole new perspective on.

Posted by: Shayne Schmidt at March 28, 2007 11:00 PM

Lyndsay Krall

ENGL 121 Humanities Lit.

March 28, 2007

In class on Monday March 28, 2007 we discussed the definition of what a bell jar is. The definition that the class had come up with was a bell shaped jar used to keep moisture in or out of it. In my opinion, I feel that Sylvia Plath called her novel the bell jar because throughout the entire story, it was as if Ester couldn’t breath, like she were trapped inside of a bell jar that would not let her escape. It also seemed like she was trapped in her own sorrows and was holding her back from living out her life. It was almost as if she wasn’t living, merely watching life pass her by. I feel that the title “The Bell Jar” suites this novel perfectly.

Posted by: Lyndsay Krall at March 29, 2007 11:12 AM

Jenny Troutman
ENGL 121.003 Humanities Literature
Homework Assignment

Dear Lee Hobbs,

In the Webster's Dictionary, it states that bell jar is a bell-shaped container made of glass, used to keep air, moisture, etc. in and out. I believe that Sylvia Plath made the title "The Bell Jar," because the character, Esther goes on and keeps herself all closed in. She never lets anyone get inside and see what she is really like. Esther keeps everything to herself and she hides her inner feelings. She hurts herself like cutting or drowning herself. Then once Dr. Nolan got her outside, and she feels like she is free. It seems like the bell jar was lifted off her head and let her breath and enjoy life.

Posted by: Jenny Troutman at March 29, 2007 01:40 PM

Lee Hobbs,

The Bell Jar is a glass jar used to display an object. An example, of this would be the delicate rose in the movie Beauty and the Beast. Ester feels she trapped inside the Bell Jar of “her madness”, which is the reason she is unable to connect to the outside world. At the end of the movie she is released from the Bell Jar, but the sense of its existence is still there. An example from the story shows how Ester has grown was when she refused to see Irwin after having intercourse. Another example is when she attended Joan's funeral. This exemplifies a strong and well rounded person who able to connect to the outside world and relate many people. Path called her novel, The Bell Jar, because it portrays the life that Ester lived, which was very inverted and isolated from the rest of the world because of her illness.

Posted by: Sheryll Daugherty at March 29, 2007 03:54 PM

I believe that she named her only novel this because it was a major issue in her own personal life. She and Esther have similarities in their psyche which have her mind felling as if it were a bell jar. Not allowing anything in, such as medication and help, her brain is a bell jar itself. She feels as if she is trapped in and not able to get herself out.

Posted by: thomas nolf at March 29, 2007 05:22 PM

Melisa Parsons
March 29, 2007
English 121
A Bell Jar is a bell shape jar used to keep moisture in or out. A Bell jar is used to preserve items. I believe that Sylvia called this novel The Bell Jar Esther tried to preserve her life by going to college so she could have a career. While she was studying to graduate she received good grades throughout school. School and work was Esther’s bell jar. When she did not get accepted to the class she wanted to go to she went down hill. Like a flower in a bell jar when Esther was taken out of school and work she die.

Posted by: Melisa Parsons at March 29, 2007 05:55 PM

Andy Hood
Instructor Lee Hobbs
ENGL 121.003 Humanities Literature
29 March 2007
The Bell Jar
A Bell Jar is a bell-shaped jar used to keep things in. This is a very unique title for a novel. Sylvia Plath is the only one who truly knows why she called her novel this. However, I believe she was referring to Esther Greenwood as the Bell Jar. Esther is what keeps everything in and doesn’t let anything out. Even when she did tell men her name, she used an alias. I think Plath was referring to the mind of esther, which therefore would be Sylvia Plath. She must have felt like her whole world was a bell jar

Posted by: Andy Hood at March 29, 2007 07:58 PM

Throughout the whole story Esther is very delicate. She has suicidal thoughts and is pretty much hanging on the edge. I believe, in a sense, she had a bell jar over her through the story, kind of like a guardian angel. Then, finally at the end, she is releived and no longer needs the bell jar as protection.
p.s. I enjoyed the music video

Posted by: Erin Rock at March 29, 2007 08:29 PM

Gillenberger 1
Erika Gillenberger

Instructor Lee Hobbs
ENGL 121.003 Humanities Literature
29 March 2007
A bell jar is often used to protect and display fragile objects. In the story The Bell Jar Ester is found to be a person who is very fragile herself. The use of the word bell jar in this story is not used as a word describing protection, but the exact opposite. Ester found her self trapped in the bell jar. The bell jar of her mind and emotions are stifling and her illness worseness. Her bell jar is lifted off her when she receives shock treatment, “The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air.” (176), this informs us of her release form her depression momentarily. The treatment worked and she was able to breathe freely physically, mentally and emotionally.
Work Cited
Sylvia, Plath. The Bell Jar. 1971. New York: New York, 1996.

Posted by: Erika G. at March 29, 2007 08:48 PM

Professor Hobbs,

The Bell Jar by definition is a bell shaped jar used to keep moisture in or out. "The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the ciculating air" (176).
That quote describes how she feels about herself. Throughout the book she felt very disconnected with herself, by examples of trying to commit suicide and going through shock treatments. Since a bell jar can either keep moisture in or out it symbolizes the battle within herself.

Tina W

Posted by: Tina W at March 29, 2007 08:52 PM

Professor Hobbs,

I think that Plath named her book The Bell Jar because of the situation that the main character, Esther, was in. Throughout the development of Esther’s mental illness, she was experiencing depression and a lack of self worth and motivation. As the mental illness progressed, Esther found herself going through several painful treatments and living in homes that are meant for psychological patients. Living a life bound by an illness can be lead the person to feel trapped, and abandoned, as if no one could hear her cry for help.
A bell jar is also meant to preserve items that are placed inside its walls. Living with some sort of psychological disorder can be very harsh on a person’s soul. They may feel as if they are a failure, worthless, and that nothing can help them to get better. Unfortunately, even the smallest of a disturbance to these people might set them off and cause them to take drastic actions in response. This may in a sense cause their need for protection, like a bell jar.
Stephanie Vrabel

Posted by: Stephanie Vrabel at March 29, 2007 08:58 PM

Tatiana S. Mack
Professor Hobbs
English 121.003

What Is A Bell Jar?

A bell jar is a vacuumed sealed jar. I believe that Sylvia Plath titled her only book The Bell Jar because she believe that she was living in a jar. I believe that she felt like nothing or nobody could possibly help her, because she was alone in her “bell jar”. She shows this when she says, “I knew I should be grateful to Mrs. Guinea, only I couldn't feel a thing. If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn't have made one scrap or difference to me...... I would be stirring under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.” (152). Also, even when she was in the asylum, she felt out of place. “The women were all sitting up and knitting or riffling through magazines..... I had just thought of sleeping” (133).

Posted by: Tatiana S. Mack at March 29, 2007 09:12 PM

A bell jar is a bell shaped jar used to keep moisture in or out or protect fragile objects.

I think that Sylvia Plath named her novel "The Bell Jar" because the bell jar was that one little thing that held her in from everything else. It was that little container that kept her from doing what she really wanted to do to herself. The bell jar was the vase that held Ester's fragile life in and determined what happened. Just like the picture of the jar over the rose, it was almost like a life or death situation, like Ester's life the jar depended on whether she would live or not. There is a sentence in the book that says, "I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air." I think this line means that instead of being here alive in the world, Ester, would rather take the bell jar off and have "fresh" air even though that would mean that she is literally killing herself but she would be suffering, to her she would be in a happier place.

Posted by: Lorin Gdula at March 29, 2007 09:37 PM

Amber Dunmire

I believe that Sylvia Plath named her book, The Bell Jar, because she felt as if her head was in a bell jar. Anything she said was not heard by anyone else, but herself. She could not explain how she felt to anyone. After the second round of shock treatment she stated that she could feel the bell jar lifted and she could breath again.

Posted by: Amber Dunmire at March 29, 2007 09:39 PM

A bell jar, as we discussed in class, is a jar with no bottom to keep something inside of it. It is like the glass that contained the rose in "Beauty & the Beast," and I've seen it house various valuable objects in hutches, particularly in my grandmother's house.

I think Sylvia Plath titled this novel "The Bell Jar" because something, that something being her illness, was halting her growth in the world. Her sickness was keeping her from getting better. She felt suffocated. On page 193, she contrasts it to the dead babies in the jar she had seen when at med school with Buddy.

"To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream," Plath writes after Dr. Nolan tells her to pretend "it" (the illness, the time in the hospital) was all a bad dream. Feeling better, Esther felt as if this imaginary jar was lifted.

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York: Bantam Books, 1963.

Being a fan of Ryan Adams, I think the song "Slyvia Plath" is more about what he wants than about Plath herself. I think he wants a girl who is a little crazy and eccentric and will keep his life interesting. Hopefully Parker Posey provides him this. Lucky girl.

Posted by: Kendra Sledzinski at March 29, 2007 10:42 PM

Dear Professor Hobbs,

A bell jar is a bell shaped glass cover that is used to protect and display delicate objects or to keep moisture in or out.
I believe that Sylvia Plath used The Bell Jar as the title of her book, because the character in the story is almost stuck in a Bell Jar. Esther is depicted as being trapped inside her own body, not being able to be herself. Plath describes this experience on page 193, “to the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.” The bell jar almost serves as a trap, that is almost impossible to escape, or at least that is how it feels to be severely depressed.

Thank you,
Jaime Hersh

Posted by: Jaime Hersh at March 29, 2007 11:10 PM

Mr Hobbs,
I believe in class you said that The Bell Jar was a reflection of Sylvia Plath's own life. In the Forward on page ix, it also talks about certain things that had happened in Sylvia's life had also happened to Esther in the book. Since Sylvia did in fact reflect herself in Esther, I think she called the book The Bell Jar because that is what she felt like. She felt like she was in a Bell Jar getting no air, simply being stuck behind glass watching other people's lives while hers stayed the same, and going crazy. There are a few times in the book when Esther mentions the Bell Jar. In chapter 15 on page 185 Esther is talking about if Mrs. guinea were to send her anywhere in the world, "I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air...The air of the bell jar waded round me and I couldn't stir"(Plath 185-186). Then in chapter 18 after receiving proper shock treatment Esther says, "I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air" (215). So after the shock treatment she felt like she had finally awakened from a bad dream. Then on page 238 she talks about the other girls in the asylum being under "bell jars of a sort" which I think she meant that they were all still in their dreams. What I mean by coming out of a bad dream is like when you space out just for a moment until something like a big noise or someone calling for you pulls you back into focus. Another example is someone with Alzheimer’s disease. People with this loose who they are. It's like their minds have gone on vacation but sometimes they come back for only a moment. So this is what I think the bell jar is. This is why I think Sylvia Plath called her book The Bell Jar.

Posted by: Kristin Dudra at March 29, 2007 11:54 PM

Colin Hough

ENGL 121.003

Instructor Lee Hobbs

30 March 2007

Why a Bell Jar?

A bell jar, according to Wikipedia, is a glass instrument used in science laboratories shaped much like a bell itself. That is not the origin of the name, however, as its origin comes from the way sound reacts when it is placed on a flat surface. Much like a bell, when this glass instrument is placed and sealed on top of a flat surface, the volume of the sounds from within the glass is dampened substantially. Other tests and experiment can be done with a bell jar, such as the testing of a tool’s strength when it is covered by the jar and the air within it is evacuated.
As for the usage of this instrument as the title of Sylvia Plath’s fictional autobiography, its uses and affects to things like sound can be related to Esther’s reactions to certain situations throughout the book. Esther explains that in order to exhume the aura of a devoted woman at the workplace, she should not express to anybody her feelings or thoughts no matter how serious they may get. Esther’s keeping to herself and remaining silent about her true feelings is quite similar to how a bell jar dampens noise when sealed. The bell jar can also be related to Esther in the way that they are used to test the strength of things like tools and other instruments without any air, while the trials and tribulations which Esther faces on a seemingly daily basis seem to test her strength with more and more force each time.

Posted by: Colin Hough at March 30, 2007 12:18 AM

English 121
Professor Hobbs,
The Bell Jar
The title of The Bell Jar can be interpreted in a few different ways. I believe the title stands for how the depression was making her feel. She said in the story that she felt like she was trapped under a bell jar gasping for breath. I think that this was how Sylvia Plath herself felt during her depression and so she wrote a book about a similar girl who was dealing with the same mental issues, and also trapped under the bell jar.

Jeff Hoover

Posted by: Jeff Hoover at March 30, 2007 08:17 AM

Lauren Wozniak
ENGL 121.003
Instructor Lee Hobbs
March 30, 2007

Why did Plath name it “The Bell Jar”

A Bell Jar is a glass that keeps moisture in or out. One reason that I believed Plath named this novel “The Bell Jar” is because, Esther suffers throughout the novel by being constricted and pinned down to roles that are ideal to women of her time, and how women must act towards men. Esther feels that she has to be the perfect or “ideal” women in society and believes that there is no room for individuality. Esther feels like that she living inside this bell jar and that everyone around her is judging her. Another reason that Plath believed that “The Bell Jar” was an appropriate title was because Esther had to live in a world surrounded by sane people. Esther felt as though she was the only insane person around. This forces Esther to break down, which leads her to attempted suicide.

Posted by: Lauren Wozniak at March 30, 2007 09:57 AM

Dear Professor Hobbs,

Throughout The Bell Jar the reader watches as Ester’s decent into more and more eccentric behaviors. Ester feels as though she the lid of a bell jar is slowly descending above her, and as the glass lid closes in on her she feels the madness take hold. She can still see the world through her glass prison, but she cannot breathe. The Bell Jar is symbolic for the mental illness that seems to take hold of Ester. Towards the end of the book she says that she feels as though the lid of the bell jar has been lifted above her head, but she says that she knows that it could come back down at any moment. Ester does not ever expect to escape the bell jar. She will instead allow it to come with her with the expectation of an eventual return to madness.

--Erika Knox

Posted by: Erika Knox at March 30, 2007 10:10 AM

Professor Hobbs,
In my opinion the reason why Sylvia Plath entitled her novel "The Bell Jar" was because Esther lived a sheltered life. Society at this time held virginity as a very important aspect of life. In the 1950's if you were a virgin you were pure and a good person. I believe that Plath entitled the book "The Bell Jar" because; Esther was a pure, special, delicate individual until she met individuals such as the many men she was encountered with. The main individual was Bobby her boy friend who was a very sexual individual.
She was very pure and really ignorant to the subject of sex. The way she did not know if she had lost her virginity proves that she was very pure and untouched. She was like the delicate rose in the movie The Beauty and The Beast. It too was protected by a bell jar. After the bell jar was removed she was no longer the same individual. Like in the film Beauty and the Beast; When ever someone would come close or touch the flower under the bell jar he turned it to a different person.
Carlos Gonzalez
English 121.003

Posted by: Carlos R. Gonzalez at March 30, 2007 10:23 AM

I think Sylvia Plath named her only novel The Bell Jar because she was not confined to what she had to say, kind of like a bell jar. Instead, she expressed her thoughts and experiences through the characters in the story such as Esther.


Posted by: Steve Petrone at March 30, 2007 10:58 AM

Rebecca Shenkle

“The Bell Jar”
A bell jar is a bell-shaped glass cover (Webster, 71). In Sylvia Plath’s novel, “The Bell Jar,” she writes, “All the heat and fear had purged itself I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air” (Plath, 215). I think Plath called her novel “The Bell Jar” because the story is about how Esther, the main character, lost her sanity. When she explains how the bell jar was finally lifted from her head, it means that she is finally able to feel the world as a normal person, instead of being encased in her own insanity and the craziness of her mind.

Works Cited

“Bell Jar”. The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary. 1995.
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. Harper Perennial: New York, 1996.

Posted by: Rebecca Shenkle at March 30, 2007 11:14 AM

Derek Hensley
Eng 121-03

As we talked about in class Wednesday, a bell jar is a glass casing that is half enclosed and open on the bottom. They can be used for different things. People use them to preserve things so air cannot penetrate in. For example, someone might use it to preserve pastries in their kitchen.
I think Plath called her book the Bell Jar for different reasons. One of the reasons that first came to mind for me is that she may be using the term in reference to the make believe bell jar that is shielding her virginity. Maybe in her mind she feels that she is preserving her virginity in bell jar, keeping it safe until she decides to use it or set it free.

Posted by: Derek Hensley at March 30, 2007 11:16 AM

When one thinks of a bell jar, the clear glass bell-shaped containers set over cakes and pies in diners pops into the mind. Why would someone title their novel after such a thing? A bell jar allows the cake to be protected but at the same time held back from society. For Esther, the bell jar was her prison as well as her protection. Society placed her under it to protect themselves for they feared her 'insanity'. She was still able to function within the 'normal' society for like the clear glass, she could see out and they could see in. However, there was that extra layer between herself and the society she associated with. She could not get past the barrier to become 'normal' and they did not want to come into her jar to share what she had. Also like the bell jar stops air from getting to the cakes so they stay moist, the bell jar for Esther did much the same. Her air was stale and she began to suffocate in it, unable to ever reach that breath of fresh air because of the glassy wall between her and the clean air outside. Plath's use of "The Bell Jar" as a title is a symbolic choice as it embodies the point she is making about how it feels to be suffocated and yet be in the open. Along the same lines is the statement that a person can feel lonely in a sea of people. The bell jar just stills the tide.

Posted by: Erin K. at March 30, 2007 11:28 AM


*NOTE* The deadline for this assignment has now passed. Comments are no longer being accepted for this exercise


Posted by: Lee Hobbs at March 30, 2007 04:02 PM

My Blog

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Some rights reserved. 2006.