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Free Study Guide for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath BookNotes

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Esther had driven up to Adirondacks with Mr. Willard to see Buddy in the sanatorium. It was the day after Christmas of last year. As they drove, she wished she could tell Mr. Willard to drive on alone and let her off to hitchhike home, but he has such an innocent and trusting look that she couldnít do it. At lunch, they stopped and had tuna fish sandwiches. Mr. Willard told her he and his wife had always wanted a daughter and he could not imagine any daughter nicer than she. Esther cried. He patted her shoulder and said he thought they understood each other.

At the sanatorium, she and Mr. Willard waited in a reception room. She flipped through a magazine and saw the face of Eisenhower. Buddy came in and shook her hand. His hand felt moist and fat. She was shocked to find that he had gained so much weight. He told her they made him eat constantly and let him have no exercise. He promised to thin down in a couple of weeks. He showed them his room. He gave her an ashtray he had made for her even though she doesnít smoke. Mr. Willard left them alone. He gave Esther the money for a train back home. Mr. Willard could not stand to be around sickness. He considered it a sickness of the will. When Mr. Willard was gone, Buddy handed her a magazine in which one of his own poems was printed. Buddy edged toward her and she pulled back, unclear about the contagion of TB. He assured her he was not contagious. He asked her how she might like to be Mrs. Buddy Willard. When she hesitated, he assured her that he would be fine and back in school by next fall. She told him she would never get married. Buddy didnít believe her.

She tried to explain it to him by having him recall an earlier conversation in which he had asked her if she wanted to live in the country or the city. She had answered that she wanted both and he had called her neurotic. The question had come from a psychology class questionnaire. Esther told Buddy that he was right: she was neurotic. He suggested they could live in between country and city, but she insisted that she wanted two mutually exclusive things at the same time.

Weeks later, Esther stood at the top of the ski slope on Mount Pisgah. Buddy had been teaching her to ski all morning. He stood at the bottom of the slope watching her, gesturing for her to come down. Buddy had borrowed the skies and poles from one friend and the boots from another. She remembers that he won a prize in medical school for persuading the most people to let the bodies of their dead relatives be used for medical study. After she had worked at the practice of skiing for half an hour, Buddy had told her to try the ski rope tow up the hill. He told her to go only half way, but when she got there, she couldnít let go of the rope, worrying that the skiers behind her would run over her. When she got to the top, she stood staring down. Finally, she headed straight down the hill. She was exhilarated by the speed and thought, "This is what it is to be happy." She flew down past everyone and felt like she was flying past "year after year of doubleness and smiles and compromise, into my own past." She crashed at the bottom and blacked out for a moment. When she came to, her mouth was full of snow and Buddy hung over her. She was told that she was doing fine until someone stepped into her path. As Buddy pulled off her boots and examined her legs for breaks, she said she was going to go back up. He told her in a satisfied way that she could not because her leg was broken in two places.


This chapter uses the image of flying down a ski slope as a metaphor for what makes Esther happy. The careful life that Buddy has planned for her, on the exact model of his parentsí marriage, is far from what she wants. This memory of a significant moment serves Esther as a landmark in her movement away from the normative life prescribed for her by her society.

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