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Free Study Guide for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath BookNotes

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THE BELL JAR - FREE PRINTABLE NOTES DOWNLOAD


CHAPTER 20


Summary

Esther will leave the hospital in one week and go to college. It is the heart of winter. She knows she will be learning the landscape all over again. She writes, "In one way it seemed a small thing, starting, after a six months’ lapse, where I had so vehemently left off." She knows everyone will know her story. Doctor Nolan has warned her that many people will treat her as if she were "a leper with a warning bell." Esther had thought of her mother. Esther thinks of her mother’s reproachful face at her last visit to the asylum since Esther’s twentieth birthday. "A daughter in an asylum! I had done that to her. Still, she had obviously decided to forgive me." Her mother had told her they would take up where they left off and act as if the last six months were all a bad dream. Esther thinks, "To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream." She remembers all of it and thinks of all her memories as a part of her landscape now.

A nurse announces a man to see her. It’s Buddy Willard. She feels nothing but "great amiable boredom." He has borrowed his mother’s car and got it stuck in a drift of snow outside. Esther goes out to help him with it. He looks at her with a mixture of wariness and curiosity. She tells him she’s fine. She feels a "profound thrill" to see the snow covering everything. She feels the same about this vision as she feels about the sight of a flooded landscape, "as if the usual order of the world had shifted slightly, and entered a new phase." Esther is grateful that his car got stuck since it prevents Buddy from asking her questions. When he does, she notices he has lost his earlier annoying self-confidence and now has the "face of a man who often does not get what he wants." He asks her if she thinks something in him drives women crazy. Esther laughs at the question, but then remembers she asked Doctor Nolan the same question about Joan. Doctor Nolan, of course, reassured her that she had nothing to do with Joan’s suicide. She assures Buddy, in turn, that he had nothing to do with either her or Joan.

On a nurse-supervised walk on the grounds, Esther talks to Valerie about leaving. Then she leaves her noticing her "calm, snow maiden face behind which so little, bad or good, could happen." Esther wonders if someday in college or Europe or somewhere else, "the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, would descend again." Buddy had wondered aloud who she would marry now that she’s been in the asylum. Esther wonders who would marry her.

Esther calls Irwin about the hospital bill for her vaginal hemorrhage after their sex. He has been avoiding the bill and the hospital has sent it to her. He says, "all right, all right" and agrees to pay it. He wants to know when he’ll see her. She says never and hangs up the phone. She feels like she has accomplished a lot in calling him. She realizes he has no way of getting in touch with her. She feels "perfectly free."

Esther goes to Joan’s funeral. Her parents had invited Esther. Esther sees other women from her college. As she stands at the grave site, she "took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am."

The doctors of her hospital discuss her case during their weekly board meeting. Esther sits in the waiting room anxious. She examines her clothes and sees they’re well-arranged. She wears a red woolen suit, "flamboyant as her plans." She wears "something old, something new . . ." Finally, Doctor Nolan calls her. She steps into the room.


Notes

The novel ends as Esther enters a new part of her life. The reader feels sure that she will be released from the hospital and will do well at school, more comfortable with her relation to the world than she ever was before.


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