The Bell Jar Chapter 7 and 8 Summary

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath Menu

Chapter 7 Summary

Esther finds Constantin, the simultaneous interpreter, much too short but overall finds him attractive. And he’s clearly not American, because he has intuition. He realizes very quickly she wasn’t a protégé of Mrs. Willard’s and soon they were cracking jokes at her expense. As she’s sitting with Constantin at the UN, she realizes the only time she was totally happy was when she was nine years old. In spite of all the fun-sounding things her life included after that, like sailing camp and dancing lessons, she wasn’t really happy. She sees a Russian woman translating sharply and efficiently, and wishes she could trade lives with her.

As she’s watching the translators and the diplomats debate, she thinks of all the things she couldn’t do, like cooking. Her mother and grandmother would give her lessons but she could never remember what to do. She remembered a friend in college who instinctively would add ingredients to recipes to improve them, which amazed her. She didn’t know shorthand either; her mother kept telling her no one would want to hire an English major. But Esther hated the idea of serving men in any way.

She also couldn’t dance, wasn’t athletic at all, couldn’t speak or write foreign languages. The only thing she was good at was winning scholarships and prizes and that couldn’t go on forever. She suddenly felt like a racehorse in a world without racetracks. She felt her life was branching out like the fig tree in the story she had read, and on each branch was a different choice. One fig was a family and husband, another becoming a famous poet, another lifelong travel and adventure. There were so many figs she couldn’t count them all. She saw herself sitting at the base of the tree starving to death because she couldn’t choose just one fig; she wanted them all.

Constantin brings her to a nice Greek restaurant which she immensely. She realizes her vision of the fig tree might have come simply from being hungry. She decides she will let Constantin seduce her. Ever since Buddy told her about the waitress she had been thinking of a way to even the score. She had almost slept with one other boy, named Eric, another Yalie who she met only because he’d been stood up by his date. They go out for coffee and end up talking very frankly about sex. Eric reveals he lost his virginity to a middle-aged hooker, and he’d found the entire experience boring. Esther wondered out loud if it would be different with someone you loved; Eric said he wouldn’t want to anyone he truly liked to have to go through with that. She decides he’s not the one to sleep with.

The more she thinks about it, the better she feels about her choice of Constantin. There also was the pleasant irony of Mrs. Willard introducing them. Esther thinks back to an article her mother sent her from Reader’s Digest which argued for chastity for young women. Women should be pure until marriage, even if their husbands weren’t; and there was no way to safeguard completely against pregnancy either. She thought the article was rather silly and didn’t consider the feelings of the woman at all. She decided if it was impossible to find a pure man, why bother staying pure yourself? Just a few years before, virginity was very important to her, but now it just seemed silly.

They went back to Constantin’s apartment, where they lounged around and listened to records. He said he didn’t have a girlfriend, but all he seemed to want to do was hold her hand. They both finally lay down on his bed and fall asleep.

When she wakes up it takes her a while to remember where she is; she looks at Constantin asleep next to her – she had never slept next to a man before. She wonders what it would be like to be married to him. She imagines washing dishes and waiting for him to come home and tell her stories about translating at the UN. It seemed like a dreary life, but she knew that’s just what it was like, because that’s what Buddy’s mother did. Once she visited Buddy and found Mrs. Willard had woven a beautiful wool rug by hand; Esther thought if she’d made a rug like that she would have hung it on the wall. But instead Mrs. Willard put it on the kitchen floor and in a few days it was dirty and indistinguishable from any other cheap doormat. She knew what men really wanted, despite their promises of romance, was to flatten women out like Mrs. Willard’s rug. She suddenly remembered Buddy saying once she had children she’d feel differently, that she wouldn’t want to write poetry any more. Esther begins to think becoming a wife and mother is like brainwashing.

She stares into Constantin’s face until he wakes up; he asks the time and offers to drive her home. As they’re getting ready to go, he looks over and runs his fingers through her hair, which gives her an electric jolt. Later, back in her hotel room, listening to the rain, her shin bone begins to ache and she thinks how it’s Buddy’s fault she broke her shin Buddy was also responsible for her broken shin. Then she corrects herself and thinks she did it on purpose to get back at herself for being such a heel.

Chapter 8 Summary

She remembers back to the day after the previous Christmas, when Mr. Willard drove her up to the Adirondacks to visit Buddy. She was depressed, like she always was after the holidays, and as they drove further towards their destination she felt gloomier and gloomier; she was tempted to tell Buddy’s father to leave her and she’d hitchhike home. But one look at his face – sweet and trusting – and she knew she couldn’t do it. At midday they pull to the side of the road to eat the lunch Mrs. Willard has prepared for them, and Mr. Willard tells her he and his wife had always wanted a daughter and adds, “I don’t see how any daughter could be nicer than you.”

She wasn’t sure what to expect of Buddy’s sanatorium, and had imagined a sort of picturesque Swiss chalet. Buddy had told her they had to lie around a lot, hoping the TB wouldn’t become active. She couldn’t imagine Buddy lying quietly; even when they went places where you supposed to relax, like the beach, he was always running around. The last thing she had expected was for Buddy to have gained weight, but he even has a little pot belly. He explains it’s because they’re fed so much and not allowed to move around. Buddy asks if they want to see his room. It contains a lumpy bed and a couple tables, one covered with books and clay pots. Esther asks about one of the ashtrays, and he says he’d made it for her; she responds that she doesn’t smoke.

Mr. Willard announces that he’s going to go and Esther’s surprised. He gives some money to Buddy for Esther’s return ticket on the train. Esther feels deserted, as if it was planned all along, but Buddy says father couldn’t stand to be around sick people. She sits down on Buddy’s bed, and he shows her a poem in a magazine, and announces he’s written it. Esther thinks it’s terrible, but doesn’t say so; Buddy edges closer to her on the bed, and suddenly she’s worried about germs. He tells her he’s not positive, and not to worry. He asks her if he can ask her an important question; she knows what’s coming and tries to make it as difficult as possible for him. He whispers in her ear, “How would you like to be Mrs. Buddy Willard?” Her first impulse is to laugh, but she just hesitates silently; he sees this and qualifies it by saying he’s not in any condition to think about doing it soon and so on. She tells him she wants to tell him something; he’s afraid she’s met someone else, which she denies. Instead, she says, she’s never going to marry. He thinks she’s crazy. She reminds him of a time when he asked if she wanted to live in the city or the country, and she said both, at which point he called her neurotic. She denies this explanation, saying that if “neurotic” is wanting two mutually exclusive things, that’s what she’ll be for the rest of her life. Buddy puts his hand on hers and offers to do it with her.

They go skiing on Mount Pisgah, although Esther has never skied before. Despite her utter lack of enthusiasm, Buddy borrows everything they’ll need and teaches her how to ski, even though he also has never skied. She’s amazed by his persistence in the face of such mulishness. She remembers Buddy had won some prize at medical school for convincing the most families to donate their recently deceased family members to science.

After about half an hour, he suggests she try the rope tow; she doesn’t think she knows enough to ski down an advanced slope. He suggests she get off the tow halfway up, so she won’t have to ski all the way down. But once she gets on she’s not able to get off halfway; suddenly she’s at the top of the slope and Buddy is waving at her from below. An interior voice tells her to take off her skis and walk down; but this voice vanishes in the face of another thought: “the thought that I might kill myself formed in my mind coolly as a tree or a flower.” She pushes off down the hill, rushing past all the other skiers, and for a brief moment she feels truly happy. Not surprisingly, she crashes at the bottom, and Buddy informs her, with a queer satisfied expression, that she’s broken her shin.