The Bell Jar
First published in 1963 by William Heinemann Limited.
Rosenberg execution. 1946.
Boston Area, New England.
She feels like she is caught under a bell jar, stewing in her own sour air.
Esther Greenwood: has lived in an out-of-the-way town for 19 years in New England (near Boston) until she got a scholarship and moved to NYC. Her mother and father both spoke German, her father died when she was 9. She was only purely happy until the age of 9. Considers herself to be a neurotic. From 0-9 years she was a Methodist, now she is a Unitarian. Her family is catholic. Age in the story 19&20.
Grandfather: head waiter at a country club near her hometown; he introduced her to special tibits. Promised her all the caviar she could ever eat at her wedding as a joke because Esther never intends to get married.
Doreen: there is no one like her. She makes Esther feel like she is sharper than the others. She is funny & she has got intuition. The thinks Jay Cee is ugly.
Jay Cee: Esther's boss. Old, smart, really wants to learn Esther something.
Betsy: Girl from Kansas.
Buddy Willard: Esther's ex-boyfriend, his parents love her like the daughter they've never had. Goes to Yale.
Esther lives in a hotel and works and she thinks she should be happy/excited but she isn't. There are twelve of them at the hotel; they have won a fashion magazine contest by writing essays. The job is for a month w/bonuses. She hates the other rich girls, she is jalous. Betsy comes in and asks if she is coming to the party. They take a cab to the party. A man comes up to their cab and asks them over to have a drink with him and his friends. Esther's hooked up with Frankie; she dislikes him, he's short. She doesn't know which liquor to take so she orders a plain vodka. The guy who came up to their cab is named Lenny Shephard, he is a famous disc jockey. She lies to Frankie that her name is Elly Higginbottom and that she is from Chicago. After she declines his invitation to dance he leaves. Lenny wants to go to his apartment w/Doreen. Doreen says she will only go if Elly will come too. They go to Lenny's place: it is built like the inside of a ranch. He plays a record. Doreen asks Esther to stay in case he tries something "funny". He mixes them some drinks and says he'll call one of his fellows for Esther; she declines the offer. Doreen and Lenny dance, Doreen's breasts show. Esther gets out of there. She finds her way home although she is quite drunk. She takes a hot bath and meditates. Doreen and she made wake her up. Doreen is drunk. Esther doesn't want her in her bed because then she won't get rid of her. She puts her outside her room on the carpet. She decides that she will listen to what Doreen has to stay but that she won't have anything to do with her deep inside (loyalty towards Betsy and friends, who dislike Doreen). Lunch at the Ladies' Day (big women's magazine). Doreen is not there, she is with Lenny. That morning she went to JC's office. JC asked her about her about her plans for the future; she doesn't know. JC says she better learn some languages. She has no time to fit that into her schedule but she will try to talk the dean into it. The dean considers her to be an interesting experiment. She was the only girl who passed physics (with an A). She hates physics. She takes chemistry classes without getting credit for them, she hates it, she pretends to pay attention. She wishes JC would have been her mom. Her mother hated her father for dying and leaving no money. Once she sent a thank you letter to a famous (bad) novelist who gave her a scholarship; got invited. She goes to a (poor) movie with a few people. She actually wanted to spend her afternoon in Central Park alone. She leaves before the movie has ended: either a bad movie or too much caviar. She feels like puking. Betty feels bad too, they leave together. They puke in the cab & the hotel elevator & in the bathroom. Someone is knocking at the bathroom door while Esther is lying on the floor. A woman drags her to bed: hotel nurse. Food poisoning. Doreen comes to visit her the next morning. The Ladies' Day sent them presents (books). She gives Doreen a mirror with her name and daisies on it. A Russian foreigner named Constantine invites her for dinner at the UN (Mrs. Willard's interpreter). Esther looks down on Buddy; he's a hypocrite. He is in the TB place now (sanatorium). She adored Buddy from a distance for 5 years. Their mothers were close friends. She used to take everything Buddy said for what was the absolute truth. In her mind she went over old conversations, making a sharp reply in the end instead of the "guess so" reply like always. (Flashback) unexpected visit from Buddy with a letter inviting her to the Yale Junior Prom. When the people in her house find out she's been asked to the prom they suddenly respect her. During the prom he treats her like a friend/cousin. When they walk home he asks her to go to the chemistry lab. There is a great view there, they kiss. The kiss is absolutely wonderful to him but uninspiring to her. They're now dating. She finds out he has been fooling her for years on the day they see a baby being born at a hospital. Buddy always wants to teach/explain things to her. He asks her if she has ever seen a man. She feels no harm in seeing him naked and allows him to undress himself. She doesn't want to undress. She asks him if he has ever had sex with someone. He's had sex with a waitress 'a couple of times'. She is angry because Buddy pretended she was so sexy and he was so pure. When she's decided to finally ditch Buddy he calls her saying he's caught TB. He begs her to stay in touch. She tells everyone Buddy has TB and that they are practically engaged so she can stay home Saturday nights (and won't have to go on dates). She likes Constantine although he's too short; he's got intuition. They go to an auditorium in the UN, she is bored and starts summing up things she can't do; she feels inadequate. She has no plans for the future. When she chooses a certain thing she won't have the others. During dinner she decides that she will allow Constantine to seduce her. Constantine asks her to come up to his apartment. She wine sets in and she lies down in his bed (he attempts nothing). When they wake up he brings her back to her hotel. She always feels gloomy after Christmas. Mr. Willard and she will go and visit Buddy in the sanatorium. He says they have always wanted a daughter, but he can't see a daughter being nicer than she is. Buddy looks fat. He made her a clay astray. Mr. Willard leaves and she feels deserted. He shows her a poem, she thinks its dreadful but says it is not bad (Buddy wrote it). He asks her to marry him. She says she will never marry anyone. Buddy learns her how to ski although he has never skied before in his life. She goes up a slope, but she has second thoughts when she has to sky down. She breaks her leg in two places. She must have her picture taken for JC, she hates having pictures taken. She says she wants to be a poet. The photographer asks her to smile, she starts crying. She has sent in a short story to get into a summer school course w/a famous writer. She considers sending some of her own work to JC under a pseudonym. Doreen tries to get her to go on a date with a friend of Lenny but she says she'll go home for the weekend the next morning. She goes anyway. Marco gives her his diamond stickpin. He is a womanhater. He forces her to dance. Outside she asks him who he loves. He loves his cousin, who is going to be a nun. He throws Esther at the ground and calls her a slut. She escapes by biting and hitting him. He demands his diamond stickpin back. She lies that she doesn't know where it is. He becomes really angry and she says it is in her bag, which fell on the ground in the dark in the mud. She can't find Doreen. She finds someone to drive home with. She throws her wardrobe out of the window. The next morning she takes a train home. She didn't wash the blood of her cheeks; the stains seemed touching and spectacular to her. Her mother tells her she didn't make it into the writing course. She has never spent a summer in the suburbs before. Her mother lives in a white clapboard house. Esther hates children. Her old friend Jody calls (she was gonna move in with her if she had been accepted to the writing course) who asks her to come and move in anyway and take some other courses. She says no, but she regrets this later on. She realises she can't live with her mother for longer than a week. A letter from Buddy: he might be in love with a TB-nurse but if she will come visit him this summer he might change his mind. She writes back that she is engaged (a lie). She decides to write a novel this summer, but she needs life experience to write. Her mother gives her a shorthand course (she leaves excusing a headache). No novel; writing her thesis instead. She decides not to learn shorthand. When she starts working on her thesis she decides to junk it & her honour programmes and be a plain major in English (the requirements are higher than she expected they would be. Courses she hasn't done). She asks her family doctor for stronger sleeping pills. The fam doc sends her to a psychiatrist (Dr. Gordon). She hasn't washed her clothes and hair for 3 weeks and she hasn't slept for 7 nights. Dr. Gordon is pretty, she hates him. Her handwriting has changed into a quite childish one and is scared by it. She shows it to Dr. Gordon but he isn't impressed and says he would like to speak to her mother. Her mother has been crying when she comes out of the office. Esther hasn't improved and she must have shock treatment in Dr. Gordon's private hospital. She reads a suicide article. She wants to run away to Chicago, but she goes to Dr. Gordon's private hospital anyway. She looks at the people in the main entrance of the hospital; they are hardly moving with small gestures. She has her shock treatment and she thinks what a terrible thing it was that she has done (what did she do to deserve this?). After the treatment she can't concentrate and she feels horrible. She says she won't come back next week. Her mother says "I know you would decide to be all right again" (Denying there is a problem). She keeps a box with 19 Gillette blades in her notebook. She has a dead, vacant expression in her eyes. When she sits in a park she thinks of doing it. She hears voices in her head. She hasn't been able to sleep for 3 weeks. She wanted to slit her wrists that morning but she couldn't make herself do it (after she cut into her leg, she was slightly horrified). She goes to Deer Island Prison, they used to live there when her father was still alive. She thinks of renting a hotel room w/a bath to do it. She goes to the beach with Jody & Mark & Cal. She asks Cal how he would kill himself; with a shotgun. She goes into the sea and she wants to swim until she is too tired to turn back and drown. That morning she tried to hang herself. When she dives she keeps floating. Her mother makes her take up volunteer work at a hospital: cure for thinking too much about herself. She leaves the hospital. She visits her father's graveyard. AT home she writes a note "I am going for a long walk". She takes her mothers bottle of sleeping pills and goes into the cellar. She lies down in a gasp and takes all the pills. They finally find her and when they find her she thinks she is blind. She wants a mirror but the nurse says better not . She looks at herself in the mirror and (accidentally?) drops it. She asks her mother to get her out of the hospital. She is not co-operating at all in the hospital and she is being rebellious. Mrs. Guinea pays for a private hospital. She has a female doctor named Nolan. She walks through the building and meets a girl named Valerie. She thinks Valerie looks to normal to be in the hospital. Dr. Nolan comes in and asks her about Dr. Gordon, he did she shock treatment wrong. She gets 3 insulin injections a day. She grows fatter. Valerie has had a lobotomy in Wymark. Esther moves to the front of the building, more sun. Joan (from school) is in the same hospital. She gives Esther newspaper articles about her suicide attempt. Joan slashed her wrists through a window. Esther has a 'reaction', she can't have any visitors for a week. She is glad Mrs. Guinea herself isn't satisfied with what the doctors are doing (not enough improvement). She doesn't even remember her own birthday. She tells Dr. Nolan she hates her mother. She moves to Bellsize (improvement). She thinks the people in Bellsize are gossiping about her. She receives no breakfast (which means she'll get shock treatment). She gets upset and Dr. Nolan comes in to comfort her. After the shocktreatment she feels better. "The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air." She receives shock treatment 3 times a week. She receives town privileges. Joan and she both receive a letter from Buddy, he is out of the TB hospital. Joan tells Esther she likes her, Esther tells Joan she makes her puke. She goes to the doctor for a fitting (won't be able to have children anymore). Joan is leaving the asylum. Esther meets Irwin (a professor in mathematics), he takes her to dinner. She has sex for the first time. It hurts, she is bleeding and she goes to Joan. She is still bleeding and they go to the emergency. Joan back in the asylum. The staff wakes Esther up in the middle of the night because Joan didn't return from the movies. Joan's found dead, she hung herself. Her mother visits "We'll take up where we left off, Esther," she had said, with her sweet, martyr's smile. "We'll act as if all this were a bad dream." A bad dream. To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream. She realises she can't consider everything that has happened to her to be a bad dream, but that it is a part of her 'landscape' and maybe forgetfulness will numb and cover them, but they'll always exist. Buddy visits her, he asks her if there is something in him that drives people crazy (Joan & she). She calls Irwin and makes him pay the emergency bills. She goes to Joan's funeral. She has an interview with the hospital's staff whether she may leave the hospital or not. She steps into the room. -end-.
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