The Bell Jar Chapter 15 and 16 Summary

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath Menu

Chapter 15 Summary

It turns out Mrs. Guinea, the founder of the scholarship she was on at college, saw an article about Esther in the paper and telegrammed her mother, asking if the trouble was about a boy. When her mother replied in the negative, Mrs. Guinea offered to pay for Esther to be admitted to an expensive private hospital. Esther knew she should feel grateful – her mother told her so – but she couldn’t feel a thing.

She has her own room again at the new asylum. She’s a little annoyed she missed another chance at escape – as they were crossing the bridge to the hospital, she thinks, she should have thrown herself out of the car and off the bridge. A slim young woman introduces herself to Esther as Dr. Nolan; Esther is surprised – she didn’t think there were women psychiatrists. Once she’s settled in her room, a whole other bunch of doctors come and introduce themselves, but Esther can’t keep their names straight. One of them babbles on and on about back when the Pilgrims and Indians had lived on the land.

Esther notes there are real linen tablecloths on the table and real glasses, unlike at the city hospital. She finds the lounge, where a patient named Valerie introduces herself; Esther ignores her. She finds a nurse writing her name in all her clothes and asks her where everyone is; the nurse responds they might be at the golf course or playing badminton. Esther sees Valerie reading an old copy of Vogue and wonders what she’s doing there, as there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her.

Later, Dr. Nolan talks to her alone and asks her about Dr. Gordon. At first, Esther is afraid to say anything, thinking all doctors are in it together. Finally, Esther admits she didn’t like him, and she tells Dr. Nolan about the terrible shock treatments. Dr. Nolan tells her shock treatments are never supposed to be like that; when they’re done correctly, they’re just like going to sleep. Dr. Nolan promises first that Esther will never have to have shock treatments again; then she corrects herself and simply promises Esther she’ll have warning and that they won’t be anything like before.

A new woman moves into the room next door to Esther; Esther decides since she’s new, she doesn’t know how bad Esther was, and might want to be friends. The woman, Mrs. Norris is dressed in purple and lying on her bed. When Esther introduces herself Mrs. Norris doesn’t say a word, only lies there. After a long while she sits up and walks down the hallway; Esther follows her. Mrs. Norris sits down at the table and spreads a napkin on her lap. The cook tells her dinner isn’t ready yet, but she just sits there in silence. Esther sits down with her and waits for dinner.

Esther gets injections three times a day in her rear, which as a consequence is all black and blue. Valerie tells her she’s on insulin. Esther doesn’t seem to have any adverse reaction to the shots, except that she gets fatter and fatter.

Another day, Valerie shows Esther two small scars on her head, which Esther thinks look like the remnants of horns which used to sprout there. Valerie tells Esther she’s had a lobotomy and that she feels much better than before; she’s not angry anymore. She also tells Esther she doesn’t want to leave because she likes it there.

The next day they move Esther further to the front of the house, which apparently is “progress.” Mrs. Norris is also moving, but to Wymark, the place where they send back-sliders. Esther has spent hours and hours at the bedside of Mrs. Norris, hoping to be the one that gets through to her, but it hasn’t worked. The nurse also tells Esther someone she knows has been admitted; Esther can’t imagine who it is. Amazingly, it’s Joan, the girl she knew both from home and from college, the one who briefly had dated Buddy before her.

Chapter 16 Summary

It occurs to her that Joan had had herself admitted simply as a joke on Esther. She asks Joan how she got there. Joan says she had read about Esther in the paper and ran away: she’d had a summer job she hated, with a boss who constantly hassled her. She holes herself up in her apartment and never answers the phone until her doctor sends her to a psychiatrist. When she finally gets to the see the doctor, she’s confronted with a whole bunch of medical students, all of which makes her even more uncomfortable. When she gets home, she writes a letter to the doctor telling him how terrible he was. Esther asks her if she got an answer to the letter and Joan says she doesn’t know, because that’s the day she read about Esther in the paper.

Incredibly, she produces a pile of clippings to show Esther. The first has the headline, “Scholarship Girl Missing. Mother Worried.” Apparently when Esther didn’t return by midnight the day she left the note, her mother called the police, and soon they had police and dogs looking for her in the woods. The second headline trumpeted, “Sleeping Pills Feared Missing with Girl.” The last read, “Girl Found Alive!” and showed a picture of the police lifting a limp body into an ambulance.

Joan says she read all about Esther and got on the first plan to New York; she thought it would be easier to kill herself in New York, she tells Esther, and shows her the deep scars across her wrists.

That night Esther wakes up to a loud voice; suddenly she realizes the voice is her own – she’s calling for the night nurse and banging on the bedpost with her hands. The nurse tells her she’s had a “reaction” which she discusses with Dr. Nolan a few days later. In the few days in between she’s been as quiet and unobtrusive as possible, fearing she’d be assigned to have shock treatments again. Dr. Nolan tells her she has news for her and Esther fears the worst: instead, the doctor tells her she won’t be allowed to have visitors for a while, which pleases Esther. Esther has a lot of visitors and she despises all of them because she feels everyone is judging and evaluating her. Her mother was the worst of them all; she never scolded – instead, she kept begging Esther to tell her what she’d done wrong. One afternoon, she brings Esther a bouquet of roses and reminds Esther it’s her birthday, which she’d utterly forgotten. Esther dumps the roses in her wastebasket. She tells Dr. Nolan she hates her mother.