Free Study Guide for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath BookNotes|
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As she lied in bed after the others had gone off to the fur show, she got a call from Jay Cree who asked her to come into the office. Jay Cree asked why her work didn’t interest her. She tried to tell Jay Cree that her work did interest her. She remembers that all her life she had thought studying, reading, writing, and working was her goal. She had been college correspondent for the town Gazette and had been the editor of a literary magazine at her school. A well known poet mentored her and she had promises of full scholarships all the way through school. Now, for some unaccountable reason, she is balking. Jay Cree asked her what she wanted to do after her last year of college. She had always wanted to go to graduate school in the U.S. or in Europe and then become a college professor and write poetry. Now for the first time, however, she says she doesn’t know what she wants to do. She said she wants to learn German. She remembers her mother’s story of speaking German during World War I and being stoned for it. Her brother is living in Germany on the Experiment in International Living in Berlin. When she does try to learn German, the sight of the language makes her mind shut down. Jay Cree advised her to learn several languages in order to distinguish herself from the hundreds of other women who flood into New York every year hoping to be editors.
Esther thinks of her senior class schedule. It is an very loose Honor’s program which allows her to study independently. She plans to write a senior thesis on the images of twins in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. She remembers taking the required courses in physics, botany and chemistry. She liked botany but she hated physics. Her teacher, Mr. Manzi, lectured in a boring fashion and taught out of a four hundred page mimeographed book of his own writing. She made straight As in the first course and then devised a way to get out of the second course. She was made sick by physics which she sees as "shrinking everything into letters and numbers." She thought chemistry would be worse because "perfectly good words like gold and silver . . were shortened to ugly abbreviations . . ." She went to her Class Dean and proposed that she take Shakespeare instead and just sit in on Chemistry class. Mr. Manzi agreed with the plan because he felt flattered that she would audit his class for no credit. That term, she went to every chemistry class and wrote villanelles and sonnets. Mr. Manzi thought she was taking notes on his lectures.
In this chapter, Esther’s first name is provided for the first time. Jay Cree says it when she asks Esther about her work. As noted above, her full name, Esther Greenwood, will not be mentioned until chapter five. The fragmentation of the narrator’s name suggests that she feels fragmented in her identity. In chapter three, her loss of direction is the focus. Since she has always succeeded in her studies without much effort, she has never faced a barrier that would require her to evaluate her goals in life. Now, suddenly she cannot feel sure of what she wants to do. She has no role models. Jay Cree, who comes closest to filling this role, is a humorless workaholic who lives unadorned among prettied up women who gossip about her poor looks. The poet professor at Esther’s school is not developed enough as a character to help the reader judge how she might fit in as a role model.
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. 09 May 2017