We begin with Esther Greenwood spending a summer month in New York acting as an editing intern at a fashion magazine along with a number of other young college women. Esther, it seems, is a very good student at one of the exclusive New England institutions for women. Likely, Smith College is the model, although it's not called out. But it's close enough to Yale for weekends mixing with the guys down there. I believe we're sometime in the 1950s: Eisenhower shows up in a magazine spread at one point.
When she gets home, Esther begins a downward spiral of depression and begins thinking about committing suicide, eventually making several attempts. She is sent off to a mental hospital. By the end of the book, she appears to be well enough to be released, but it's never completely clear.
It was kind of fun to be reminded about the social aspects of college life back in the olden days, how men or women had to travel to each other's schools for some social interaction. My older brother had to do that at Princeton. It confirmed for me that I had indeed made the proper decision to go to an co-educational school where all that artificial mingling would not be necessary. Of course, a few years after I graduated, pretty much everyone became co-ed, so such is no longer an issue. Anyway, an interesting trip down memory lane, so to speak.
On the other hand, this wasn't the best choice of a book for me to be reading. Reading about depression, suicide attempts, and "psychiatric treatment" [sic] are not things I want to confront. Psychiatry, even in the 21st century, is still basically a quack endeavor. The kind of psychiatry practiced in the 1950s, before there were decent anti-depression medications (many of which still aren't particularly efficacious), makes me want to punch rather a number of people. Still, the book was very well written. Plath was a well respected poet and her imagery and use of language is spectacular.