The Bell Jar/Sixteen

Plot summaryEdit

Chapter sixteen begins with Joan's story. Esther remarks that she had never known Joan except for at a “cool distance”. She's uncertain whether Joan's story is true or if she's making it all up to see if Esther's crazy enough to believe it, but decides to humour her all the same. Joan tells her how she had read about Esther's suicide attempt and how she ran away from home. She quit her summer job and got referred to a psychiatrist by her doctor. At the psychiatrist's it turned out he wanted her to participate in group therapy, so she ran away.

Joan then shows Esther newspaper clippings about Esther's disappearance and recovery she has collected and gives them to her to put in a scrapbook. She tells Esther how she tried to commit suicide by putting her fists through a window and shows off the scars on her forearms. Esther assumes that she's all right now, to which Joan responds with a question: “Aren't you?”

Later during the day Esther falls asleep, and as she wakes up she finds herself beating on the bedpost and calling for the night nurse. The nurse tells her that she's had a reaction to the medicine and that she will be better in no time.

When she talks with Doctor Nolan the next day, she mentions that she felt better for a while, though she's the same again. The doctor tells her she has news for Esther. Esther expects to be told about needing shock treatment, but instead she learns that she won't be receiving guests for some time. She is happy at the news, as she hated the constant visits. She tells the doctor about her mother's visit and how she hates her. Doctor Nolan just smiles at Esther and says “I suppose you do”.

Example study questionsEdit

  • What do you think about Mrs. Greenwood's visit and Esther's reaction to it?