Free Study Guide for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath BookNotes|
Previous Page | Table
of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version
THE BELL JAR - ONLINE CHAPTER SUMMARY
Esther is riding with her mother and brother in the
back of Philomena Guineaís car. She is waiting for the right moment to escape
out of the car and jump over the rail of the bridge. Mrs. Guinea had telegraphed
Estherís mother from the Bahamas where she was staying. She had read about Esther
in the newspapers and wanted to help, but first she had to make sure there was
no man involved "in the case." Estherís mother had telegraphed back,
"No, it is Estherís writing. She thinks she will never write again."
Mrs. Guinea flew to Boston and has taken Esther out of the hospital ward in the
city and is taking her to a private hospital for wealthy people. She promises
to pay Estherís expenses until she gets well. Estherís mother has told her to
be grateful. She has used all her money on Estherís hospital bills and without
Mrs. Guineaís help, Esther would have to go to the state hospital. It is located
in close proximity to the private hospital. Esther cannot fee grateful. She wouldnít
have been happy even if Mrs. Guinea had given her a free trip to Europe. No matter
where she would be, she "would be sitting under the same glass bell jar,
stewing in my own sour air." As they cross the bridge, Esther gets ready,
but her mother and brother cover the door handles with their hands. She sinks
back into her seat, feeling like "the air of the bell jar wadded round [her]
and [she] couldnít stir."
At the new place, she has her own room.
It looks like a room in Doctor Gordonís place, but it has no bars on the windows.
Sheís on the first floor and outside her window is a wooded yard surrounded by
a red brick wall. She feels unnerved by her failure to jump off the bridge as
the car crossed over it. She thinks that even if her mother and brother hadnít
been there, she would not have jumped. When she gets enrolled in the main building,
she meets her new doctor, a woman named Doctor Nolan. Esther is surprised to have
a woman psychiatrist. When she gets back to her own building, called Caplan, many
other doctors visit her, all men. The doctors enter her room one by one and introduce
themselves. She canít understand why there are so many of them and why they need
to introduce themselves to her. She becomes wary, thinking they are testing her.
The director of the hospital comes in last. He talks to her for a long time about
the Pilgrims and the Indians who had lived on this land, and the people who had
settled on it after them. He tells her who had built the first hospital and other
information until Esther thinks he must be testing her as well because she thinks
it is all untrue about the Pilgrims and Indians. Then she thinks some might be
true, but before she can figure out whatís true and whatís not, he leaves.
Esther gets out of bed and walks down the hall. She sees the dining room where
a maid is setting the tables. She notices there are real glasses. In the city
hospital they had used paper cups and had no knives to cut their meat. She walks
further until she arrives in a big lounge. She sees one young woman sitting in
an armchair. She introduces herself as Valerie, but Esther acts like she doesnít
hear. Esther walks to the next wing. She asks the nurse where everybody is and
the nurse only says "Out." The nurse is writing "E. Greenwood"
on all of Estherís things. The nurse tells her the people are all out playing
badminton and golf. Esther goes back to the lounge and sits beside Valerie. Valerie
is reading a copy of Vogue magazine with great interest. Esther canít see whatís
wrong with her that she should be in the hospital.
In her therapy session
with Doctor Nolan, the doctor asks her if she can smoke. Esther doesnít mind and
wants Doctor Nolan to smoke, thinking it may make her stay longer. Doctor Nolan
asks Esther what she thought of Doctor Gordon. Esther is wary, thinking all the
doctors were "in it together" and that this hospital probably has a
shock therapy machine also. Nevertheless, she says she did not like Doctor Gordon
at all. She says she did not like what he had done to her when he had shocked
her. Doctor Nolan tells her Doctor Gordon had made a mistake, that the shock therapy
was not supposed to work like that, and that "if itís done properly, itís
like going to sleep." Esther promises she will kill herself if anyone does
it to her again. Doctor Nolan tells her she wonít have shock treatments there,
but if she does, she will tell Esther in advance. She adds that some people like
the treatments. When Doctor Nolan leaves, Esther finds that she left a box of
matches. Esther tries to strike one but it crumples. She thinks it must be a test.
She plans her answer if they ask her what sheís done with the matches. Sheíll
tell them she thought they were candy and ate them.
A new woman moves
into the room next to Estherís. Esther thinks this woman wonít know how bad she
is as the rest of the patients do. She decides to go in and make friends, but
when she introduces herself, the woman refuses to answer. She wonders if Valerie
or another patient had told this woman how stupid she is. A nurse comes in and
calls the woman Miss Norris. Esther sits looking at the woman for a long time.
Finally Miss Norris gets out of bed and leaves the room. Esther follows her to
the dining room, where Miss Norris sits at the table. On the way there, Miss Norris
walks very carefully, placing her feet only in the center of the roses on the
carpet. A cook calls out that supper isnít for another hour. Miss Norris doesnít
respond. Esther pulls up a chair opposite her and sits silently.
Esther is in her room. The nurse gives her an injection. Esther is wearing her
pajamas under her skirt because she doesnít like to have to change into and out
of them all the time. Her bottom is full of bruises from the injections. She gets
an injection three times a day. Valerie tells her sheís lucky to be on insulin.
Esther tells her nothing happens to her after the injections. Valerie assures
her it will happen and that Esther should tell her when she gets a reaction. Esther
never seems to get a reaction. She gets fat, however.
Valerie shows Esther
the scars on the sides of her head from a lobotomy. She and Valerie are out walking
in the asylum gardens with the Sports Therapist. She is being given more and more
privileges. Miss Norris never gets to go out. Valerie tells Esther Miss Norris
should be at Wymark, the building for worse people. Valerie tells Esther that
since her lobotomy she feels fine. She is not angry any more and she gets to live
at Caplan and have many privileges to go to town visits. When Esther asks her
when she is leaving, Valerie says she is not leaving because she likes it there.
A nurse announces that Esther is moving. Esther worries that they are
moving her to Wymark, but the nurse says sheís moving to the front of the house
where thereís more sun. Esther notices they are moving Miss Norris also. She has
been keeping watch on Miss Norris, giving up all her usual diversions to stay
and stare at Miss Norrisís mouth, hoping to be there when Miss Norris speaks.
She thinks she would be praised for encouraging Miss Norris and get many new privileges
as a result. She finds out Miss Norris is being moved to Wymark. Esther, on the
other hand, is "moving up."
When she gets to her new room, the
nurse announces a surprise. Somebody she knows lives in the room next to her.
She is surprised to see Joan.
Chapter 15 is
important for giving the routine of the new hospital, a private asylum for psychological
treatments. One of the interesting elements here is the perception Esther has
of her mental illness. Instead of seeing herself as sick, she thinks of herself
as bad and stupid. We have seen her mother using the same language of morality
to talk about mental illness. Even the hospital staff members use this kind of
language. They say Esther is moving up, as if she is moving up a grade in school.
Esther gets rewarded for good behavior by getting walking privileges. When Esther
first tries to make contact with Miss Norris, she is hopeful of starting fresh
with her, Miss Norris not having heard about how "bad" she is. Estherís
bad behavior is not altogether apparent. She does some strange things: she wears
her pajamas around the clock, under her clothing, she follows Miss Norris around,
staring at her hoping to be the one to see her talk, and she is paranoid of the
doctors being in collusion against her.
Esther is on insulin shock treatment,
an alternative to electric shock treatment. The three treatments for treating
psychosis and severe depression are electric shock treatment, insulin shock treatment,
and lobotomy. This is at a time before psychotropic drugs had been discovered.
Previous Page | Table
of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version
Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath Free BookNotes Online Book Summary