The Bell Jar/Nineteen

Plot summaryEdit

The chapter begins with Joan breaking the news that she will be allowed to live outside the asylum, as a roommate of one of the nurses. She's telling Esther about her plans to become a psychiatrist and the two share a glass of cider in celebration. Esther remarks that despite her reservations towards Joan, she will in some way treasure their time together. We also learn that Esther is planning to return to college for the winter semester.

Next, we learn about how Esther met Irwin. He's a twenty-six-year-old college professor that she meets by chance on the Widener Library steps where he asks her the time. They go out for a coffee and Esther remarks that after seeing Irwin's study she decided to seduce him and lose her virginity. Esther also explains the criteria for choosing her first man: he has to be intelligent and experienced with the ladies, but also somebody she doesn't know. She views the whole affair as a kind of an impersonal ritual, a rite of passage.

Everything goes down in a matter of minutes, after which Esther is worried about the pain she's feeling. To her horror she realizes that she's hemorrhaging. Irwin reassures her that this sort of thing happens, but she makes him drive her to Joan's apartment, hoping to find her nurse roommate there. Unfortunately she only finds Joan, but the girl helps her to the best of her abilities. They take a taxi to the emergency ward of the local hospital where the doctor reassures Esther that she will be fine, remarking that cases like hers are “one in a million”.

Some time after the adventure at the emergency ward, Esther is still at the asylum. We learn that in the meantime Joan returned to live in Belview, though retaining her town privileges. Esther is awoken at night by Joan's psychologist, Doctor Quinn, who asks her if she knows where Joan might be, as she didn't return from the town for the night. Esther answers that she doesn't know and goes back to sleep, wanting to disassociate herself with Joan. Doctor Quinn wakes her up again at dawn to break the news that Joan has been found in the nearby woods where she hanged herself.

Example study questionsEdit

  • Do you think Esther is in some way responsible for Joan's death?
  • How does Esther's relationship with Irwin look in comparison to her other relationships?