The Bell Jar Chapter 13 and 14 Summary

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath Menu

Chapter 13 Summary

Esther is arguing with a guy named Cal, who Jody has set her up with. They’re lying on a beach while Jody and her boyfriend swim. They’re arguing about a play where a young man finds out he has a brain disease and his mother decides whether or not to kill him. Esther is sure her mother put Jody up to this double-date, and also is amazed Jody doesn’t immediately see she’s an entirely different person. Esther is careful to watch the other three to see how they cooked their hot dogs on the grill; she cooks hers carefully and then when no one is looking, she buries it in the sand.

The only thing Esther can remember about the play is that there was a mad person in it, which seemed to be the only kinds of things she could remember. She asks Cal, if he was going to kill himself, how he would do it. He replies that he’d do it with a gun; Esther is disappointed with this answer. It’s typical, she thinks, of course a man would do it with a gun. And where was she supposed to get a gun? She’d read too many stories in the news about how many things could go wrong with a gun.

She decides to go for a swim; she thinks how drowning must be the most gentle way to go, burning the worst. Cal comes up behind her, wanting to join her. She tells him she wants to swim to a rock way out in the distance; he tries to keep up for a while, then turns and goes back to shore. She paddles around, thinking about that morning, when she’d tried to hang herself. First she had trouble with the knot, then she encountered the problem of the ceilings in her house; they were all too low and didn’t have the right kind of fixtures. She couldn’t find any satisfactory place to fasten it, so she tried just tightening it around her neck sitting on the bed but as soon as she’d get it tight, her hands would weaken and let go. Her body wouldn’t let her die.

She was afraid, sooner or later, they’d put in her an asylum to try and cure her; what the didn’t know was that her case was incurable. She’d bought some paperback psychology books at the bookstore, and her symptoms matched with the most hopeless cases. Her family would forget about her if she was institutionalized; and they’d be poor too, paying for an expensive hospital.

She turns around and watches Cal swimming back; she decides it’s pointless to swim out to the rock, she might as well drown. She stops swimming: “I fanned myself down, but before I knew where I was, the water had spat me up into the sun, the world was sparkling all about me like blue and green and yellow semi-precious stones.” Every time she tried to dive, she popped up like a cork. She turned back.

In the next section the narrator describes her attempts at volunteering at the local hospital, another idea of her mother’s. She’d been hoping to be put somewhere with very ill people, so she could feel better about herself, but instead she was put on the maternity ward. Her job was to distribute the flowers for the new mothers; she’s disturbed that some of the flowers are brown and dying, so she throws away all the dead ones and redistributes all the flowers evenly amongst the vases. As soon as she puts down the first bunch of flowers, she’s inundated with complaints by women who notice missing flowers. She leaves running, unbuttoning her uniform as she goes.

Next she visits her father’s grave. She thinks about how part of her family are Catholics: Catholics did consider killing yourself a sin, after all. She thought about becoming a nun; her mother laughed and said they wouldn’t take her.

Esther wonders why no one in her family ever visited her father’s grave. She thinks about how different her life would have been if he’d lived, all the things he would have taught her, about insects, which was his specialty, and maybe German. She’s disappointed by the graveyard; everything seems cheap and tawdry, not the way she thought. She also can’t find her father’s grave, and it was starting to rain. She finally sees his headstone, and surprises herself by dropping to the ground and crying hysterically. She remembers she’d never cried for her father before.

The next sections opens, “I knew just how to do it.” She has formulated a perfect strategy to kill herself. She leaves a note which says, “I am going for a long walk.” She finds her mother’s hidden stash of sleeping pills and is overjoyed to find at least fifty. She hides everything back where she’d found it and takes a tall glass of water and the bottle of pills down to the cellar. The breezeway had been added to the house after it had been built and was constructed over a secret-bottomed out crevice. She fits herself into this dark hole and starts taking the pills, one by one. The bottle slides from her fingers and she lies down.

Chapter 14 Summary

She half-wakes up, feeling only the dark. The silence is palpable; she feels a cool wind, and as if she was being transported down a tunnel in the earth. She hears the rumbling of many voices, which suddenly cease. A slit of light opens and she tries to roll away from it; she tries to move but feels wrapped up like a mummy. Through “the thick, warm, furry dark, a voice cried, ‘Mother!'”

Time passes and she wakes up in hospital room; she feels warm but can’t see anything clearly: “I can’t see,” she says. A doctor is unwrapping gauze from around her head and assures her she isn’t blind. A nurse tells her she has a visitor and her mother appears, looking terrible. Esther has nothing to say to her mother; her mother says the nurses said she called for her.

She talks a nurse into showing her a mirror; she doesn’t even recognize herself: half her head is shaved and her face was all swollen and discolored. She drops the mirror with a crash, which brings another nurse running, who scolds the first. The second nurse tells her she’ll have seven years of bad luck now, speaking slowly to her as if she was a child. Esther overhears one nurse say to the other, “At you-know-where they’ll take care of her.”

Because she broke the mirror, she’s sent to a different hospital in the city because the first hospital doesn’t have a mental ward. At the new hospital she takes pleasure in scaring her roommate, Mrs. Tomolillo, who tries to be friendly; Esther quickly tells her she’s there because she tried to kill herself. She’s further annoyed when a group of doctors and medical students question her.

During visiting hours, she is sitting outside with her mother and is convinced that Mrs. Tomolillo, who is sitting behind her mother, is mimicing her mother to mock Esther. She’s also sure that several doctors, who keep coming up and introducing themselves, are trying to listen in on her conversation. She asks her mother to get her out of there; her mother agrees to try.

Later, at dinner, Esther notices there’s a new worker, a “Negro” as she calls him, who brings the carts with the food. She can tell it’s the first time he’s seen crazy people. Esther also notices this is the first time a certain red-haired woman, Mrs. Mole, has been allowed at the table; the woman snatches a bowl from Esther and turns the whole thing over. She’s immediately banished back to her room. The Negro tries to clear the dishes before they’re done eating, and Esther stops him. He mocks her under his breath for being so insolent. She looks in several of the bowls and realizes they were served not only string beans but baked beans; Esther is annoyed at the inappropriateness of this – one never serves two kinds of beans for dinner. As she leaves the table, she kicks the Negro hard in the leg and tells him he deserves it.

One morning, despite having the nurse tell her her temperature is normal, she refuses to get up. The nurse unwisely sets the tray full of thermometers down on the end of Esther’s bed. Esther moves around to make it look like an accident and kicks the tray off her bed. Within minutes, she’s rolled down the hallway and locked into Mrs. Mole’s old room. Esther has carefully saved a big rolling globule of mercury in her hands. She wondered what they’d done with Mrs. Mole.