The Bell Jar Chapter 5 and 6 Summary

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath Menu

Chapter 5 Summary

At seven the next morning the phone rings. It’s the simultaneous interpreter Mrs. Willard had told her about, and his name is Constantin. Esther is inclined to like him because he has an interesting name. In fact, she tells us, she “collects” men with interesting names; this already includes a Socrates and an Attila. He asks if she wants to see the UN later that day and adds, “Maybe you would like a bite to eat afterward.” Esther is discouraged by the use of this phrase, which reminds her depressingly of Mrs. Willard. She’s afraid, also, that Constantin is only asking her because he feels indebted to Mrs. Willard, who had put him up for a night. She agrees to go nonetheless and tries to jack up her morale: how bad could it be? He would probably be short and ugly and she would just come to look down on him like she looked down on Buddy Willard.

She hadn’t always looked down on Buddy Willard, but finally came to when she realized he was a hypocrite. She had even adored him from a distance for five years before they started dating; she only found out by accident he was a hypocrite, and then by then it was all a big mess because he wanted to marry her.

Because she didn’t want to get dressed yet, she decides not to go down for breakfast. She also decides not to call for anything to be sent up, because doesn’t understand the whole convention of tipping. When she first got to the hotel the bell boy brought up her bags and then he hung around waiting for a tip. But she didn’t know why he was waiting, so when she finally thanked him for bringing up her bag, he slammed the door when he left the room. Later, Doreen explained he’d only been waiting for a tip, and suggested ten percent was sufficient. The first time she took a cab she tipped the driver ten percent, who proceeded to yell at her for being so stingy.

Esther opens the book from the people at Ladies’ Day and a saccharine get-well card with a poodle on it falls out. She flips through the book until she finds a story she likes: it’s about a fig tree which between the house of a Jewish man and a convent. Both the man and a nun from the convent pick figs from the tree; they even see a baby bird emerge from an egg together, and they touch hands But soon the nun disappears and is replaced with a mean, stingy kitchen maid. Esther really likes this story, and especially likes the descriptions of the fig tree as the seasons change. She says she wants to crawl into the spaces between the text like you crawl through a fence, so she can fall asleep underneath the tree.

She thinks she and Buddy are like the two characters in this story, except the religions are all different. Like seeing the baby bird, they had also had something awful happen and also went their separate ways. As she lay in her bed thinking about Buddy in the sanatorium, she starts to feel guilty. Buddy had been writing a lot of letters, even saying he’d been reading poetry, which was a big change from when he used to belittle her efforts and say a poem was only a piece of dust. Esther is always frustrated that she only thinks of ways to answer cutting comments like that weeks or months later. She’s always a little intimidated by him, since he’s a couple years older and is studying to be a doctor. Now she’s finally formulated a comeback: the cadavers he uses to learn anatomy, the people he tries to cure, they’re dust, moreso than a poem, which “people would remember and repeat to themselves when they were unhappy or sick or couldn’t sleep.”

The trouble was, she thought, was she took everything Buddy said as the truth. She remembers how he invited her to the Yale junior prom. Their mothers were friends, but one day he popped into her house during Christmas vacation and informed her he might drop by to see her at school. She thought he was so handsome, and she couldn’t figure out why he would want to see her.

But she didn’t hear from him until March, when the hall phone rang on her floor. Usually people are supposed to take turns answering the phone, but since she was a freshman, the seniors usually left if for her to do. When Esther answers the phone, the girl downstairs tells her she has a visitor. She can’t imagine who it could be, as she goes on tons of blind dates and they all go horribly. She didn’t think she deserved her bad luck, as she wasn’t crippled, she just studied too much. When she gets downstairs, she sees it’s Buddy. She discovers he’s actually there to go to the Sophomore Prom with Joan, a girl they both know from back home. Esther feels like an idiot, thinking he’s only interested in Joan. He explains it had been set up months before, and is only going as a favor to his mother. Esther, still hurt, asks him why he’s going if he doesn’t want to. Buddy explains he actually thinks Joan is pretty good company, and that he’d enjoyed the times she’d visited at Yale. Now Esther is really jealous, as she’s never been to Yale. She tells Buddy she has to go, and lies about having a date later. He seems to stiffen up as well, and tells her he has a letter for her with an important question in it. After he leaves, she opens the letter to find he’s invited her to the Yale Junior Prom.

Things changed in her dorm after that; she was treated with more respect by the other students simply because she was now dating a Yalie. But then during the Prom Buddy seemed to just treat her like a friend: they didn’t dance closely and then he walked her back to the house where she was staying. She’s horribly disappointed, having hoped he would fall madly in love with her. So she’s surprised when he suggests they go up to the chemistry lab together, because there was a nice view behind the building. While they’re up there, they kiss for the first time, which doesn’t strike Esther as anything special, but Buddy is wowed. He thinks she’s dated a lot; all Esther cared about was going back to her college to tell her friends what had happened. The next fall Buddy begins medical school, and she goes there to visit him instead of Yale. It was then she found out what a hypocrite he was, the day they saw the baby born.

Chapter 6 Summary

She kept begging Buddy to show her interesting things at the hospital, and finally he agreed; one Friday she cuts all her classes and goes to visit him. She saw him and his friends cut up cadavers; he also showed her dead fetuses of different sizes in glass jars. Esther is proud of the way she calmly stares at all these gruesome things. She even attends a lecture where patients are wheeled in and quizzed about their ailments. One slide she remembers in particular is of a beautiful girl with a black mole on her cheek; the class is told she was dead twenty days later. But the bell rings, and Esther never finds out what was wrong with her.

Next she’s able to see a baby being born. She’s struck by how bizarre and torturous the delivery room looks and by the “inhuman” noises the pregnant mother makes. Later Buddy tells her the woman was given a drug which would make her forget she’d ever been in pain; Esther doesn’t quite buy this – clearly the woman was in real pain and felt it. Finally, “through the split, shaven place between her legs, lurid with disinfectant, I saw a dark, fuzzy thing appear.” The baby is delivered and the first thing it does is pee in the doctor’s face. Someone tells the mother the baby is a boy, but she doesn’t respond.

Buddy asks what she thought and she said it was wonderful. What she was really wondering was if there were any other ways to have babies besides the one she’d just seen; the most important thing, she thought, was to see the baby come out of yourself and make sure it was yours. If you were going to be in so much pain, you might as well be awake for it.

They go back to Buddy’s room where they drink wine and Esther reads from a book of poetry. It seems the poetry reading was even Buddy’s idea; he wanted to understand what she saw in it. After she finishes reading, he says abruptly, “have you ever seen a man?” She knows immediately he means naked and says she hasn’t. He asks her if she wants to, and she reluctantly agrees. He strips down to nothing and stands in front of her: “The only thing I would think of was turkey neck and turkey gizzards and I felt really depressed.” He seems hurt she doesn’t say anything, but asks her to undress. She tells him she will another time.

They kiss and hug for a while and Esther feels better; she asks him, rather suddenly, if he’s ever slept with anyone. She expects him to say no and that he’s a virgin, but after a long pause he says he has. The previous summer he’d worked as a busboy in Cape Cod, and one of the waitress flirted with him constantly and he ending up sleeping with her. When she asks how many times they’d done it, Buddy admits they’d slept together the whole summer. Esther tries to do the math in her head and is truly shocked by this information; Buddy had always talked as if Esther was much more experienced than he was, even made her feel guilty for how much dating she’d done.

It didn’t bother her that he wasn’t “pure” anymore; what bothered her was his attitude, pretending that he was. And she knew his mother was fanatical about virginity, and Buddy was very close to his mother. What would she think if she knew?

Esther is back in her dorm and had just decided to ditch Buddy for good when he called to tell her he’d come down with TB and was going to a place in the Adirondacks for medical help. She’d never heard him sound so upset before; she told him how sorry she was and that she’d write. But when she got off the phone all she felt was relief. She told everyone at school they were engaged but Buddy had TB; this was the perfect cover for her, so she could stay in all the time and study, and everyone thought she was brave, hiding her broken heart.