Free Study Guide for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath BookNotes|
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An African-American man wheels a cart into the patientsí dining room. He is new on their ward. Esther can tell she and the other patients "were his first crazy people" by the way he stares at them. He puts the bowls on the table and he and the nurse stand back waiting to see if anyone will lift the lids. Mrs. Tomllillo had been doing it, but she has been sent home. Esther finally lifts the lid of one of the bowls. The nurse praises her and asks her to take some beans and pass the bowl to the others. She passes the bowl to a red-haired woman who is being allowed in the dining room for the first time. Esther has seen her at the end of the corridor yelling and laughing. This woman grabs the bowl of beans and turns it upside down on her plate. The nurse calls her Mrs. Mole tells her she will have to eat in her room. As she is being led off, she turns around and makes faces at those at the table. The African-American attendant comes back to begin to take the plates of those who had not finished eating yet. Esther tells him they arenít finished yet. He calls her "Miss Mucky-Muck" under his breath. Esther lifts the other lids and finds another kind of beans. She thinks the man is trying to bother them by serving two kinds of beans. As Esther is leaving, she walks around the table and gives the man a hard kick in the leg. He jumps back and says she shouldnít have done that. She tells him thatís what he gets.
Someone is asking Esther to get up out of bed. The nurse has just taken her temperature and says itís normal. Esther thinks that if only something were wrong with her body, it would be much better than having something wrong with her head. The nurse sets her tray down on Estherís bed in order to take the pulse of the person in the next bed. Esther kicks the tray off the bed, acting as if it were an accident. Esther is wheeled down to Mrs. Moleís old room. Esther grabs a ball of mercury before they get her out of the room. In the new room she rolls the mercury around her palm. She wonders what happened to Mrs. Mole.
The nurses in the first hospital seem a particularly callous lot. One tells Esther, a woman who just committed suicide, that she would have seven years bad luck. Another hints darkly about the psychiatric ward "fixing" her as if she were a naughty child in need of correction. Even her mother reduces Estherís severe depression and suicide attempt as misbehaving. Sheís so surrounded by ignorance and incompetence, the reader is fearful that these medical people will make matters even worse for her. When she gets to the Boston hospital, the staff seems better trained. Plath singles out only one orderly as a problem for Esther. Esther refers to him as "the Negro," indicating that her own ideas of race inform her paranoia.
Chapter 14 is primarily concerned with describing life in psychiatric wards from the point of view of someone who is herself an unreliable narrator because her view of reality is compromised by her illness. The reader is thus called upon to judge what is real and what is paranoia in Estherís account of the ward. Plath does an excellent job of giving the reader enough information to let her or him see whatís real and whatís not. When Esther worries about where Mrs. Mole was taken, the reader sees that her fear is justified, since she has just followed Mrs. Mole to the special room for problem patients. When Esther thinks the African-American orderly purposefully breaks the rules of culinary propriety by bringing two kinds of beans for the same meal, the reader sees that this man would not have control over the menu at the hospital.
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. 09 May 2017