Free Study Guide for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath BookNotes|
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She asks someone for directions to the subway that would take her to the Deer Island Prison. The man tells her there is no subway out there since itís on an island. She begins to cry. The man in the ticket booth asks if she has some relative in prison there. She says itís her father. The man tells her how to get there.
At the prison, a man in uniform stops her from going through the gates. He tells her she canít go any farther. The prison is on the beach line and she has been walking up the beach. She walks over to the hut where he is sitting. She tells him he has a nice place there. She tells him she used to live near there. She looks at the prison grounds. The buildings are small red brick and look like buildings on a seaside college. She sees pigs and chickens in the yard. She thinks if only she had stayed living in that town she could have married this prison guard and had several children by this time. She asks him how to get into the prison. He says by a pass. She asks how does a person get locked in. He laughs and says they steal cars or rob stores. He says there are no murderers there. Sometimes, on the first day of winter, old homeless men vandalize buildings to get a warm place to stay during the cold months. She walks away and waves back at him.
She sits on a log that smells of tar. It sits on a sandbar that curves out to the sea. When the tide comes the sandbar will be submerged. She remembers the sandbar very well. It has a particular kind of shell that can be found no where else. It looks like a small conch. She hears a child telling its mother about her sitting there for so long. She hadnít thought about the beach being full of people. Itís been ten years since sheís been to the town. It has changed for the worse since then. She is the only woman on the beach wearing a skirt and heels. She had taken off her shoes and left them behind. She likes the idea of her empty shoes sitting on the beach after she is dead. Then she remembers she needs a hot bath for this form of suicide. She thinks of renting a room, but without luggage, she would create suspicion.
A boy tells her she shouldnít stay out on the sandbar since the tide is coming in. She tells him to go home. His mother starts calling him. He leaves. A wave touches her bare foot and she shivers. She thinks of the bottom of the sea where the bones of dead fish wash around like gravestones. She starts back feeling cowardly.
This chapter shows Estherís desperate alternatives--shock therapy or suicide. The shock therapy is horrible and inhumane as Esther experiences it at Doctor Gordonís private hospital. Worse, his form of psychotherapy seems to involve deceit and callous regard. Doctor Gordon doesnít know anything about Esther and doesnít seem to feel the need to. He has found a simple remedy for all kinds of psychological ailments and he uses it as if he were using a pill, giving the recipient no warning, no explanations, treating them as if they were automatons and smiling reassuringly all the while. The alternative of suicide seems much preferable to Esther. She can control what happens to her, how it happens, and how it will feel. Her hesitation at committing suicide is suggestive. She goes back to a resort where apparently her family spent summers before her father died. She wishes she had never left this place so she could have married the prison guard and lived a simple life. This passing fantasy shows that Esther still has some hope that life could be good in some place or time. Her going back to a childhood place indicates she wants to retrieve something she feels she lost. Recall her earlier insight that the last time she remembers being happy was when she was nine years old. Often peopleís search for death in suicide cloaks a search for life.
Estherís mother is not drawn in very full terms. She only gets a few lines in the book, but they are powerful ones. Her mother is unaware, as many people of the time were, of the tenacity of psychological problems. She believes they are voluntary, a sort of self-indulgence. She obviously tries her best to do what she can to help her daughter. She follows Doctor Gordonís advice because she knows nothing to do on her own. She obviously finds it wrong, against nature, and horribly frightening, but she has been taught to follow the authority of professionals, especially men professionals. When Esther says she wonít go back, however, Mrs. Greenwood reveals her ideas about the validity of psychological treatments and about the validity of her daughterís problems: She tells Esther, "I knew youíd decide to be all right again."
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. 09 May 2017