Free Study Guide for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath BookNotes|
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Esther waits for a doctor Doctor Nolan has recommended. She is there for something that is illegal in Massachusetts. When the receptionist asks her what her appointment is for, she hesitates. The receptionist guesses itís for a fitting. As she pays the bill, she feels like she is buying her freedom. She remembers telling Doctor Nolan that she hates the thought of being under a manís thumb, living, that is, with the fear of getting pregnant. Unlike a man who can enjoy sex without this fear, a woman has "a baby hanging over her head like big stick, to keep her in line." Doctor Nolan had asked if she would feel better if she didnít have to worry about a baby. Esther had told her about the article her mother had given her on the defense of chastity. Doctor Nolan laughed and said it was nothing but propaganda.
The waiting room is filled with pregnant women and baby magazines. It seems as though having babies is easy to these other women while for Esther it is hard. She wonders why she is so "unmaternal and apart." After her fitting, she rides back to the asylum in the bus feeling as if she were "her own woman. She thinks the next step is to find the right man.
Lesbian sexuality is treated contemptuously. The stereotype of ugly lesbians is fully exploited here. Esther is curious about what gay people do together, but not curious enough to ask. Like Plathís treatment of people of color, her treatment of gay people is full of committed ignorance. On the other hand, Doctor Nolan, the most positive character in the novel, doesnít condemn it and sees it as a way for women to get tenderness.
As for straight sexuality, Esther has not had great experiences so far, but still hopes for happiness in this direction. Doctor Nolan helps free her from the fear of pregnancy so she can explore sex without worrying about marriage. The reader might be surprised to know that forms of birth control like the diaphragm for which Esther getting fitted were illegal for unmarried women at this time. Plath is clearly making a feminist appeal for womenís self-determination of their bodies.
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. 09 May 2017