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The main theme of The Bell Jar is a feminist one. Its protagonist suffers under the constricted roles available for the women of her time and the subordination of women to men. The novel is a protest of the expectations that women must fulfill to be cosidered normal and successful in the society.
One of the minor themes of the novel is its treatment of the experience of being insane while surrounded by people who are sane. The protagonist begins to have her breakdown months before she begins to make her attempts at suicide. She is surrounded by people who seem to be conducting their lives in very odd ways, but who are sane by the societyís standards of sanity and normalcy. The reader notices the thin line between sanity and insanity. Estherís is a "crazy-making" society, especially as it treats women.
The mood of The Bell Jar is often meditative. Esther is a very introspective character. However, she has a strongly sardonic humor. She is enough on the outside of her society that she can see its foibles with bemused irony. The people around her often come off as caricatures. For a novel about mental illness, very little of the pain of struggling through emotional troubles is given. Even the scenes of the hospitals are scenes filled with odd caricatures and bizarre actions.