The Bell Jar Chapter 9 and 10 Summary

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath Menu

Chapter 9 Summary

The scene switches back to the present in New York. Esther is talking to Hilda, the hat girl, who informs her she is glad the Rosenbergs are going to die. Esther is irritated she’s been trapped at lunch with this shallow girl and changes the subject by asking about her hat. Esther thinks back to the night before, when she’s seen a play where the heroine was possessed by a dybbuk (a wandering soul from Jewish folklore). When the dybbuk spoke from the character’s mouth the voice was so deep you couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman; Hilda sounded just like that, she decided. Esther says, “isn’t it awful about the Rosenbergs” and Hilda responds, yes, it’s awful that such people are alive; she repeats how happy she is about their execution.

The scene shifts again, and she and all the other girls are in Jay Cee’s office, having their pictures taken for the issue of the magazine which they guest-edited. Each girl is supposed to be photographed with some sort of symbol for her life ambitions; Betsy held an ear of corn, for example to show she wanted to be a farmer’s wife. Finally Esther says she wants to be a poet, but having her hold a book of poems is rejected for being too obvious, and finally she’s handed a long-stemmed paper rose. After she’s been arranged for the picture and the photographer is about to snap it, she bursts into tears; when she finally lifts her head, everyone has disappeared. After a short period, Jay Cee reappears with a armful of manuscripts, story submissions, for her to look at. She imagines people all over the country secretly writing these manuscripts. She imagines seeing a manuscript with her name typed in the upper-right-hand corner. In fact, she had already applied for a summer school course with a famous writer; she had had to submit samples of her work in advance, and was waiting to hear if she’d been admitted. She was sure when she got home the acceptance letter would be there. She fantasizes about submitting things to Jay Cee psuedonymously, and when the stories are accepted, she’d meet her at lunch and surprise her.

Back at the hotel, Doreen is tries to persuade Esther to go to a country club dance with her and Lenny, promising she’d find her an attractive escort. Esther is leaving for home the next morning and thinks she should pack, but soon gives up and agrees to go with Doreen.

Esther tries not to expect much of the party, thinking of herself as only observer. She sees a tall, dark man in a white suit, and a bright stickpin she can’t take her eyes off. Someone notices her looking and tells her it’s a diamond; Marco, the man in the white suit, is told to give it to her. She slips it quickly into her bag. Marco jokes aloud that perhaps that evening he can perform some service which is worthy of a diamond. He grabs her arm hard; she pulls away, seeing he’s left bruises. She looks up at him, and his smile reminds her of a snake in a zoo; she knows he’s a woman-hater.

Later, Marco asks her to dance. She refuses; he swipes her drink off the table in one swoop and physically drags her to the dance floor, where he tells her to follow his lead by saying, “pretend you are drowning.” She closes her eyes and lets herself be led; surprisingly, she finds it rather sensual. She suddenly sees the appeal of women-haters.

When there’s a break in the music, he takes her outside to the golf course. He smokes a cigar; abruptly, she asks him who he is in love with. He tells her he’s in love with his cousin, who is going to be a nun, so they can’t be together. Esther tells him if he loves her, he would love someone else someday.

Esther falls down in the mud; Marco waits until she gets up halfway, then pushes her back down on the ground and climbs on top of her. She realizes if she doesn’t do something, he’ll rape her. He bites at the strap of her dress, and tears her dress to the waist. He hisses in her ear, “Slut!” She fights back, struggling and biting, kicking him with her high heel and punching his nose. He finally gives up. She tells him she wants to find Doreen and go home. He demands his diamond stickpin back; but she tells him it is in her bag, which is lost in the darkness. As she leaves him, he’s scrabbling in the darkness to find her bag.

She keeps to the shadows and covers her upper body with her stole, and is able to find a car which will take her back to Manhattan. When she gets back to her room, she looks out at the city and tosses every last piece of her clothing out the window

Chapter 10 Summary

The next morning she has to trade her bathrobe to Betsy for some clothes, as she didn’t remember to save any to wear. Of course, the clothes are very girly and don’t suit Esther. She also purposely hadn’t washed the dried blood from her fight with Marco off her face from the night before. If she moves her face or smiles, the blood would flake off, so she keeps her face as still as possible.

As she steps off the train, “the motherly breath of the suburbs enfolded me.” Her mother is waiting for her, and she immediately asks what happened to her face. She replies that she cut herself. She gets into the back seat of the car so her mother can’t look at her on the way home. Her mother tells her, as they start home, that she didn’t get into the writing course she’s applied to. Esther feels as if someone has punched her in the stomach; this was the only thing she had to look forward to the whole summer. As they near home, she slinks even lower in her seat, not wanting to be recognized. Each house she passes seems like another bar in her prison.

The next morning Esther wakes up as her mother gets up and gets ready to go to work; she taught shorthand and typing to city college girls and wouldn’t return until the middle of the afternoon. She hears the squeak of baby carriage wheels out front and slinks over to the window to peep out and see who it is. She was being sneaky because a mean old lady neighbor of theirs, Mrs. Ockenden, had twice called her mother: once to say she’d seen Esther kissing someone in a car out front, and once to say she’d seen her at her bedroom window changing at night.

When she raises her eyes to the level of the window, she sees the carriage-pusher is Dodo Conway. Dodo was a Catholic who had gone to Barnard and married an architect; she had six children. In spite of herself, Esther was rather intrigued by her. Everybody in the neighborhood loved Dodo, but the size of her family was talked about – she was said to be expecting her seventh. Suddenly Esther is irritated with Dodo’s progress up and back on the sidewalk with the baby carriage: “Children made me sick,” she thinks.

She crawls back in bed, miserable, thinking she has nothing to look forward to. She’s awoken later by the phone; she answers it, trying to disguise her voice, but it’s a friend of hers, Jody, who only thinks she has laryngitis. Esther was supposed to have shared an apartment in Cambridge with Jody and one other girl, assuming she got into her writing class. Esther gives up her spot in the apartment and feels even more depressed. She opens her rejection letter, which includes directions on how to choose another course if she wants; she calls the school and says she won’t be coming at all.

She had also received a letter from Buddy, who hints around asking for her to visit. She flips his letter over, writes that she is engaged to a simultaneous interpreter, and that she never wants to see him again as she didn’t want the father of her children to be a hypocrite. She puts it back in the same envelope and addresses it to Buddy.

She decides she’ll spend the summer writing a novel. She sets herself up at a typewriter, with lots of paper, and decides her heroine will be herself, but in disguise. She’d call her Elaine. The first paragraph comes quickly, but then Esther sits for an hour trying to think of what would come next. Her mother walks in and asks if she’s going to get dressed. The trouble was, Esther thinks, is that she didn’t have enough experience, hadn’t had any exciting things happen to her. By the end of supper her mother had convinced her to study shorthand in the evenings. She feels hopeful at first, as she sees her mother writing squiggles on an old blackboard; but as she thought about actually getting a job, she’s depressed and bored. She tells her mother she has a headache and goes to bed.

She decides to put off the novel until she’d been to Europe. Instead, she’d spend the summer reading Finnegan’s Wake, a novel by James Joyce, and working on her thesis. Or maybe she’d put off school for a year and apprentice herself to a pottery maker; various possibilities swirl through her head. She sees her life measured out in telephone poles; she counted up to nineteen, but couldn’t see beyond that.

The next morning, she pretends to sleep until her mother leaves, but her eyelids no longer seemed to shut out the light properly; she climbs under the mattress to try and find some darkness. She tries to read Finnegan’s Wake, but she can’t concentrate and the letters all start to swim together on the page in front of her. She counts the letters, and finds there are a hundred. The words began to look all twisted, like in a funhouse mirror. They began to grow barbs and rams’ horns; then they resemble a foreign language.

She decides to give up on her thesis and the honors program. But then she looks up the requirements for a regular English major and realizes if she switches, she’d already be behind, since that program is much less flexible. She looks up the requirements for an English major at the college her mother teaches at, and they’re even more complicated and stringent. She thinks that even the stupidest person at her mother’s college, which she had never thought was a good school, was probably smarter than her. She considers being a typist or a waitress, but hates the idea.

The scene switches quickly to the office of Esther’s family doctor. She’s asking the doctor for more sleeping pills, saying the ones she’d been given weren’t working anymore. The doctor, Teresa, asks her a few question and then gives her a referral to a psychiatrist.