The Bell Jar/Eighteen

Plot summaryEdit

Esther wakes up after the electroshock procedure to the voice of Doctor Nolan. She is taken outside and wonders at how at peace she feels. The doctor reassures her that the procedures will always be like that.

At dinner, Esther examines the knife she is using to eat and wonders why she used to like knives before putting it down on the table. She watches Joan and another girl play the piano, and comments how with her looks, Joan probably couldn't even keep a boy like Buddy Willard.

The narration skips forward. After her shock treatments had ended, Esther is doing well and has town privileges. Joan, whose privileges had been revoked, visits Esther in her room to boast about getting a letter. We are not told who it's from, but from the conversation we understand that it's from Buddy Willard and, as she shows Joan, Esther also got one. They discuss their relationships with Buddy and Joan admits that she never liked him much, but really liked Mr. and Mrs. Willard. She says how she liked how happy they were, unlike Joan's actual parents. Esther wonders whether letting Buddy visit and telling him that she didn't want to be with him would be an important step in her recovery. Joan says that she would invite Buddy so that he brings his mother with him. Esther has trouble picturing Joan and Mrs. Willard together.

Later on Esther and Joan continue their conversation. Joan mentions how she never liked Buddy because of how he had always pretended to know everything about women. She confesses that she likes Esther, and it is strongly implied that Joan is sexually interested in her. Esther is repulsed by Joan and remembers a story about two girls that were discovered toghether in her college dormitory. She tells her that Joan makes her puke and leaves the room.

The next time we see Esther is in a clinic waiting room, waiting to get a fitting for female contraceptive. She was encouraged to do so by Doctor Nolan and uses Philomena Guinea's money to “buy herself freedom”. She is confounded by how easy it is for other women to have babies and contemplates her own lack of maternal instinct as she watches mothers and their babies sitting in the waiting room. Coming back from the clinic, Esther calls herself “her own woman” and decides that she now has to find a proper sort of man.

Example study questionsEdit

  • Comment on the narrative gaps used in the book on the basis of the conversation between Esther and Joan. Are there any other examples like that in the book?
  • Comment on the relationship between Joan and Esther. How does it change as time progresses and why?
  • Comment on Esther's remark about other women wanting to shape her. In the light of the whole novel, how does Esther shape herself?