The Bell Jar/Ten

Plot summaryEdit

Chapter ten starts with Esther's train ride back home. She travels with a suitcase empty except for The Thirty Best Short Stories of the Year, dressed in clothes she had to borrow from Betsy. As she gets off the train, she is enveloped in the smell of the suburbs and the death-like calm of the summer. Her mother picks her up at the train station and tells Esther she wasn't accepted for the summer school, meaning that she will spend her summer home in the suburbs.

Esther is awoken the next morning by the sound of a baby carriage outside her window. She hears her mother get up, eat breakfast and go to work. As she hears the carriage again, she peeks outside and sees Dodo Conway, a local Catholic woman, and some of her children. Esther goes back to bed, but despite her best efforts she is forced out of it again by the ringing telephone. It's Jody, a friend of Esther's, who she was supposed to meet during summer school. She tells Jody that she won't come to the school and hangs up. She calls the Admissions Office of the course and leaves a message saying she cancels all arrangements to come to the summer school. She opens a letter from Buddy, in which he writes how he's falling in love with a nurse and suggests that it might not be true if Esther instead came with him to the Adirondacks for the whole of July. She replies on the back of his letter that she has fallen in love with an interpreter, not wanting to see Buddy again.

Esther decides to write a book during the summer. She types up a single sentence and cannot continue. She speculates that this is due to lack of experience. Her mother convinces her to start learining shorthand, but after some time Esther pretends to have a headache and goes to bed. There, she changes her mind about learning shorthand and about writing the novel, putting it off until she's been to Europe and had a lover. She plans to read Finnegans Wake and write her thesis instead. Esther throws all kinds of ideas around until morning, when she crawls under the mattress to block out the rising sun. She has trouble reading Joyce and wants to junk her thesis altogether and start over as a regular English major.

The chapter ends with a conversation with Theresa, Esther's doctor, as she's asking for more sleeping pills, saying that she can't sleep or read. Theresa instead refers her to a psychiatrist, Doctor Gordon.

Example study questionsEdit

  • Comment on the imagery and atmosphere of the chapter. What does summer at home feel like to Esther and how is it conveyed in the text?
  • Is chapter Ten Esther's breaking point? How do you explain her condition?