The Bell Jar/Thirteen

Plot summaryEdit

Chapter thirteen begins with Esther lying on a beach, discussing a play with a boy named Cal. She had been taken there by her friend Jody and her boyfriend Mark. She says she was hesitating to go with them because they would notice how she's changed, but Jody didn't seem to mind. She asks Cal about ways of committing suicide. He says that if he wanted to do it, he would use his father's shotgun. Unfortunately for Esther, his father lives in England, so the shotgun is out of her reach. When Jody and Mark come back from the water, Esther goes to swim herself, because she can't stand being around so many people. She challenges Cal to a race towards a far-out rock in the water.

The narration skips back to the morning of that day, when Esther attempted to hang herself with a cord from her mother's bathrobe. The attempt failed, as she couldn't find a suitable place to hang the cord, and she couldn't do it with her bare hands. She considers herself incurable and imagines how eventually she'd end up bankrupting her family and friends and ending up in a cage in some public hospital.

Back at the beach, Cal has to turn around, but Esther dogpaddles on. She tries to drown herself, but finds that the sea keeps pushing her back up to the surface. She turns around, defeated, and swims back to the beach.

Esther then tells the story of when she was a volunteer at a hospital. She was hoping to be put on a ward with gruesome cases that would recognise her well-meaning, but instead she is put on the maternity ward, where she is in charge of distributing flowers to all the mothers. Before she does that, however, she picks out all the dead and dying flowers out of the bouquets and lays them in a basin, imagining it to be a tomb. When she takes the flowers around, however, it turns out that because of Esther's initiative the women don't get the flowers they wanted and complain to the nurse. Esther runs out of the hospital in shame.

She goes to a nearby cemetery where her father was buried. She mentions how she had considered going to the Catholic Church, despite not being a believer, because she was hoping that a priest could convince her not to commit suicide. She buys a raincoat just before finding her father's grave. She collapses crying next to it, but doesn't understand why, before remembering that neither her mother, nor she had ever cried for him before.

Back home, she waits until her mother leaves, then gets a bottle of sleeping pills. She writes a note saying ”I am going for a long walk” and goes into the basement. She crawls into the breezeway, wraps herself in her coat and swallows the pills one-by-one before falling asleep.

Example study questionsEdit

  • How would you explain Esther's sudden decisiveness at the end of the chapter?