Books To Read After “The Bell Jar”

“The Bell Jar,” a semi-autobiographical novel by Sylvia Plath, has left a profound impact on readers around the globe. With its exploration of themes such as mental health, society’s expectations of women, and the search for self-identity, it has captivated its audience and sparked numerous discussions.

If you’ve recently turned the last page of “The Bell Jar” and found yourself in a book hangover, craving something that resonates with the same powerful intensity, this post is for you. Here, we delve into a carefully curated list of books that you might want to consider for your next reading adventure. Each of these recommendations carries a unique charm, yet shares some fascinating similarities with Plath’s masterpiece.

So, are you ready to embark on this literary journey?

Let’s get started.

Understanding “The Bell Jar”

Sylvia Plath’s Unique Writing Style and Themes

Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” is known for its distinctive narrative style. Intimate and raw, the first-person narration of Esther Greenwood allows readers a deeply personal insight into her psychological turmoil. Plath’s knack for merging profound, often dark, themes with poetic, vivid descriptions helps create an evocative narrative that resonates with readers on multiple levels.

The novel navigates through various themes including mental illness, societal pressures on women, the concept of self and identity, and the struggle for autonomy. It offers an in-depth exploration of Esther’s battle with depression, a reflection of Plath’s own experiences, and provides a commentary on the restrictive gender norms of the 1950s.

Impact of “The Bell Jar” on Readers

“The Bell Jar” has had a considerable influence on its readers, primarily due to its unfiltered portrayal of mental health issues. The novel’s frank discussion of depression, suicide, and the institutional treatment of mental illnesses during the period has resonated with many. Moreover, Esther’s resistance against societal norms and expectations of femininity has made the novel an important piece in feminist literature.

The book continues to be relevant due to its timeless exploration of universal themes such as the search for identity, the conflict between societal expectations and personal desires, and the challenge of finding one’s place in the world.

Choosing Books Similar to “The Bell Jar”

Criteria for Book Selection: Shared Themes, Styles, Eras

Selecting books that evoke a similar resonance as “The Bell Jar” involves considering several factors. The primary criterion is shared themes: we seek books that also delve into topics of mental health, identity, societal expectations, and personal liberation. These books need not mirror Plath’s work, but should offer a comparable depth and exploration of these themes.

Moreover, a similar narrative style, particularly first-person perspectives offering deep psychological insight, is another crucial factor. We also consider works from a similar or historically relevant era, providing a context that echoes the societal background of “The Bell Jar”.

Importance of Diversifying Reading Experiences

While we aim to suggest books that share similarities with “The Bell Jar”, we also acknowledge the importance of diversifying reading experiences. Therefore, our selection also includes works that, while thematically similar, offer a fresh perspective or a different approach to these themes. This balance ensures readers can explore the richness and variety of literature that exists within these shared motifs.

Detailed Recommendations

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story that presents a first-hand account of a woman’s descent into madness. Its profound exploration of mental health and societal constraints, particularly regarding women, shares parallels with “The Bell Jar”.


The story follows an unnamed narrator confined to an upstairs room by her husband for a “rest cure”, a common treatment for women diagnosed with hysteria during the period. As the confinement progresses, she becomes increasingly obsessed with the room’s yellow wallpaper, leading to a chilling climax.

Similarities to “The Bell Jar”

Like “The Bell Jar”, “The Yellow Wallpaper” delivers a poignant critique of the societal norms and medical practices of its time. Both works focus on a woman’s struggle with mental illness and the impact of societal constraints, making them profound narratives about the female psyche.

Unique Features of the Book

What sets “The Yellow Wallpaper” apart is its tight narrative focus. The entire story unfolds within the confines of a single room, creating an atmosphere of claustrophobic tension. Additionally, its exploration of the theme of madness is more hallucinatory and gothic, providing a different, yet comparably unsettling, examination of mental health.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a seminal novel that explores themes of mental health, authority, and rebellion. While it is distinctly different from “The Bell Jar” in various aspects, it offers a compelling narrative on mental institutions, reminiscent of Plath’s work.


Set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, the novel follows the rebellious Randle Patrick McMurphy who fakes insanity to serve his sentence in the hospital instead of a prison. His arrival disturbs the oppressive routine enforced by the authoritarian Nurse Ratched, leading to a power struggle that underscores the narrative.

Similarities to “The Bell Jar”

Like “The Bell Jar”, Kesey’s novel provides a critique of mental health institutions and treatments. Although the perspective is different, it similarly delves into the human psyche and the effects of societal pressures on individuals. Furthermore, both novels depict the protagonists’ rebellion against oppressive authority figures.

Unique Features of the Book

Unlike Plath’s novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is primarily a critique of authority and conformity. Its exploration of mental health takes on a broader societal context, revealing the power dynamics and dehumanization present in institutions. Additionally, its male perspective provides a different viewpoint on these issues.

“Girl, Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen

“Girl, Interrupted” is a memoir that provides an intimate account of the author’s experiences in a psychiatric hospital. Like “The Bell Jar”, it offers a deeply personal exploration of mental health issues and the societal expectations of women.


The book is an account of Kaysen’s two-year stay in a psychiatric institution during the late 1960s. Through a series of vignettes, she explores the nuances of her mental health, the validity of her borderline personality disorder diagnosis, and the eccentricities of her fellow patients.

Similarities to “The Bell Jar”

“Girl, Interrupted” shares with “The Bell Jar” a candid portrayal of life inside a mental institution. Both books provide an introspective look at the complexities of mental health and the subjective nature of sanity. They also scrutinize the societal expectations imposed on women and the struggle for self-identity.

Unique Features of the Book

“Girl, Interrupted” stands out for its autobiographical format and non-linear narrative. This fragmented structure mimics the nature of memory and reflects the instability of Kaysen’s mental state during her institutionalization. It provides a raw, unsettling exploration of mental health that is both similar to and distinct from Plath’s novel.

“The Hours” by Michael Cunningham

“The Hours” is a complex and multi-layered novel that intertwines the stories of three women. It touches upon mental health issues, societal expectations, and the search for self-identity, themes that echo “The Bell Jar”.


“The Hours” weaves together the narratives of three women from different eras: Virginia Woolf as she begins writing “Mrs. Dalloway”, Laura Brown, a 1950s housewife reading Woolf’s novel, and Clarissa Vaughan, a modern version of Mrs. Dalloway. Each woman faces her own existential crisis, grappling with depression, dissatisfaction, and identity.

Similarities to “The Bell Jar”

Just like “The Bell Jar”, “The Hours” navigates the intricacies of mental illness and the struggle for self-identity. All three protagonists, like Esther Greenwood, grapple with societal expectations, depression, and their place in the world.

Unique Features of the Book

“The Hours” is remarkable for its intricate narrative structure that links three different timelines and characters. It explores mental health and societal constraints from diverse perspectives, each connected by the thread of Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway”. This multilayered approach offers a wider lens on these themes, distinct from the singular focus of “The Bell Jar”.

“Ordinary People” by Judith Guest

“Ordinary People” is a poignant novel that explores the themes of grief, mental health, and familial relationships. While it presents a different narrative context than “The Bell Jar”, it shares a similar depth in its exploration of psychological issues.


“Ordinary People” revolves around the Jarretts, an upper-middle-class family trying to cope with the aftermath of the elder son’s death. The story primarily follows the younger son, Conrad, who grapples with survivor’s guilt and depression, leading to his suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization.

Similarities to “The Bell Jar”

Like “The Bell Jar”, “Ordinary People” provides a profound exploration of mental illness, specifically depression, and its impact on the individual and their relationships. Both novels depict the protagonist’s recovery process and their struggle to reclaim their life after a mental breakdown.

Unique Features of the Book

“Ordinary People” stands apart for its exploration of family dynamics and grief. While “The Bell Jar” focuses on Esther’s personal struggle, Guest’s novel broadens the perspective to include the familial impact of mental illness. It portrays how individual trauma can affect the entire family unit, adding another dimension to the understanding of mental health.

Additional Recommendations

“Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

This novel takes us through a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares for a party, providing a deep insight into her character and thoughts. Like “The Bell Jar”, it explores themes of mental health, societal expectations of women, and personal identity.

“Prozac Nation” by Elizabeth Wurtzel

A memoir detailing the author’s struggles with atypical depression and substance abuse during her college years. It resonates with “The Bell Jar” through its honest portrayal of mental health and the protagonist’s journey to recovery.

“I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” by Joanne Greenberg

This novel follows a teenage girl’s three-year battle with schizophrenia. It was chosen due to its exploration of mental illness and the protagonist’s struggle to distinguish between her created world and reality.

“The Awakening” by Kate Chopin

The story of Edna Pontellier, a woman who feels constrained by societal norms and expectations. It shares with “The Bell Jar” the themes of identity, societal pressure, and the quest for personal freedom.

“Franny and Zooey” by J.D. Salinger

This book consists of a short story and a novella that focus on the two youngest members of the Glass family. It’s included for its exploration of existentialism and the characters’ struggles with their identities, paralleling Esther’s internal conflict in “The Bell Jar”.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky

This coming-of-age novel follows the life of an introverted teenager named Charlie through letters he writes to an anonymous person. Its candid depiction of mental health, adolescence, and the search for identity resonates with themes in “The Bell Jar”.

“An Unquiet Mind” by Kay Redfield Jamison

This memoir by clinical psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison details her experience living with manic-depressive illness. It offers an intimate look at mental health from both a personal and professional perspective.

“Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys

The novel acts as a prequel to “Jane Eyre”, chronicling the life of Mr. Rochester’s first wife, known as “the madwoman in the attic”. Its exploration of mental health, identity, and societal expectations resonates with themes in “The Bell Jar”.

“Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates

This novel presents the story of a suburban couple struggling to come to terms with their personal problems while trying to maintain an outward appearance of success. It was chosen for its critique of societal norms and exploration of personal dissatisfaction.

“She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb

The novel tells the story of Dolores Price, a woman who struggles with weight, mental health, and personal tragedies. It was selected for its exploration of a woman’s journey to self-discovery and personal acceptance, a theme shared with “The Bell Jar”.

Conclusion: Continuing the Exploration

Exploring different narratives that echo the themes and styles of “The Bell Jar” can provide readers with a richer understanding of these topics. Each of the recommended books offers a unique perspective on mental health, identity, and societal constraints, enabling readers to deepen their empathy and comprehension of these complex issues.

Encouragement for Readers

We encourage readers not to stop at these recommendations. There is a vast literary world to explore, each book offering a new lens to view and understand human experiences. The books similar to “The Bell Jar” can be a stepping stone into a broader realm of literature that expands and challenges our perspectives.

Final Thoughts

While “The Bell Jar” holds a distinct place in literature for its raw and intimate portrayal of mental health, these recommended books carry their own value and resonance. Through these shared yet varied narratives, we continue the exploration initiated by Sylvia Plath, contributing to a more nuanced discussion on the themes she courageously brought to the forefront.

rj adams books

R.J. Adams

My first job was at Barnes & Noble, so books and reading have been a big part of my life for as long as I could remember. My Kindle is jam-packed with books I likely will never get around to reading and my To Be Read pile is even longer!

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