The Bell Jar – Chapters 9–10

Summary: Chapter 9
The day of the Rosenbergs’ execution, Esther speaks with
Hilda, another guest editor, who is glad the Rosenbergs will die.
In a photo shoot for the magazine, Esther holds a paper rose meant
to represent the inspiration for her poems. When the photographer
commands her to smile, she begins to sob uncontrollably. She is
left alone to cry, and then Jay Cee brings her some stories to read
and critique. Esther fantasizes that one day Jay Cee will accept
a manuscript, only to find out it is a story of Esther’s.
On Esther’s last night in New York, Doreen persuades her
to come to a country club dance with Lenny and a blind date, a friend of
Lenny’s. As they talk, Esther looks around her room at the expensive
clothes she bought but could never bring herself to wear. She tells
Doreen she cannot face the clothes, and Doreen balls them up and
stuffs them under the bed. When the girls arrive for the dance, Esther
immediately identifies her date, a Peruvian named Marco, as a “woman-hater.”
When she first meets him, he gives her a diamond pin that she admires,
and tells her he will perform something worthy of a diamond. As
he speaks, he grips her arm so hard that he leaves four bruises.
At the country club, Esther does not want to dance, but Marco tosses
her drink into a plant and forces her to tango. He tells her to
pretend she is drowning, and Esther drapes herself against him and
thinks, “It doesn’t take two to dance, it only takes one.” Marco
takes her outside, and Esther asks him whom he loves. He tells her
that he is in love with his cousin, but she is going to be a nun. Angered,
he pushes Esther into the mud and climbs on top of her, ripping
off her dress. She tells herself that if she just lies there and does
nothing, “it” will happen. After he calls her a slut, however, she begins
to fight him. When she punches him in the nose, Marco relents. He
is about to let her leave when he remembers his diamond. He smears
Esther’s cheeks with the blood from his nose, but she refuses to
tell him where the diamond is until he threatens to break her neck
if she does not tell him. She leaves him searching in the mud for
her purse and his diamond. Esther cannot find Doreen, but manages
to find a ride home to Manhattan. She climbs to the roof of her hotel,
perches precariously on its edge, and throws her entire wardrobe
off the roof, piece by piece.
Summary: Chapter 10
Esther takes the train back to Massachusetts, wearing
Betsy’s clothes and still streaked in Marco’s blood because she
thinks it looks “touching, and rather spectacular.” Her mother meets
her at the train, and tells her she did not get into the writing
course she planned on taking. The prospect of a summer in the suburbs
distresses Esther. She thinks about her neighbors: Mrs. Ockenden,
a nosy woman she dislikes, and Dodo Conway, a Catholic woman with
six children and a seventh on the way. Mrs. Conway has a messy house
and feeds her children junk food, and everyone loves her. Esther’s
friend Jody calls, and Esther tells her she will not be living with
her in Cambridge, as planned, because she has been rejected from
her writing course. Jody tells her to come anyway and take another
course. Esther considers going to Cambridge, but hears a “hollow
voice,” her own, tell Jody she will not come. She opens a letter
from Buddy, which says he thinks he is falling in love with a nurse,
but if Esther comes with his mother to visit him in July, she may
win back his affections. Esther crosses out his letter, writes on
the opposite side that she is engaged to a simultaneous interpreter
and never wants to see Buddy again, and mails the letter back to
Esther decides to write a novel, but as she begins to
type she becomes frustrated by her lack of life experiences. She
agrees to let her mother teach her shorthand, but realizes that
she does not want a job that requires shorthand. Lying in bed unable
to sleep, she considers using the summer to write her thesis, put
off college, or go to Germany. She discards all of these plans as
soon as she thinks of them. Her mother, who sleeps in the same room
with Esther, begins to snore, and Esther thinks of strangling her.
The next day she tries to read Finnegans Wake, but
the words seem to slide and dance all over the page. She considers
leaving her school and going to a city college, but rejects this
idea. When she asks the family doctor, Teresa, for more sleeping
pills, Teresa refers her to a psychiatrist.
Analysis: Chapters 9–10
In these chapters, Esther’s behavior becomes increasingly
erratic, and her perspective on the world increasingly skewed. Until
this point, Esther has been an unconventional but fairly normal
young woman: cynical, and sometimes rebellious about the conventions
of society, but also eager to behave normally, and guilty about
feelings she views as abnormal or ungrateful. Now, however, Esther’s healthy
skepticism about the absurdities of her world becomes an inability
to see the world as real, and she begins to disregard -society’s
With Esther’s slipping grasp on reality comes an inability
to protect herself from danger. Marco bruises her arm within moments
of meeting her, speaks to her threateningly, and rips her drink
away from her, but she does not detach herself from this clearly
dangerous man. She does not grasp that she is taking a risk by putting
herself in the hands of this man, instead musing calmly on Marco’s
likeness to a snake she remembers from the Bronx Zoo. When he throws
her to the ground and rips her dress off, initially she seems to
consider letting the rape occur, although eventually she reacts.
When she returns to the hotel and throws her clothes off the roof,
she forgets the practical consideration that she will need something
to wear the next day. She throws away the expensive clothes as if
throwing away the unhappy remnants of the dream job she ended up
despising. While the symbolic gesture is apt, for Esther symbolism
has filled the screen, leaving little room for the demands of reality.
Esther begins to disregard people’s opinions of her.
She wears Marco’s blood on the train home to the suburbs as if it
is a medal of honor, and cannot understand why people look at her
with curiosity. At home, she does not bother to get dressed, and
she has trouble sleeping. She starts to feel detached from herself,
as evidenced by the fact that she listens with surprise to her own
voice telling Jody she will not come to Cambridge. Her uncertainty
about her future, understandably intensified after her rejection
from the writing class, begins to pummel her. She frantically runs
through a list of possible paths, and rejects all of them.
Plath suggests that Esther’s troubles originate in her
mind, but are exacerbated by the circumstances surrounding her.
Marco attempts to rape Esther, a horror she deals with on her own.
She bears her pain and shock silently, which surely intensifies
these feelings. She must return from New York City, a city that
Esther may have found unpleasant, but that forced her to keep busy
and keep the company of girls her age. She must now live in isolation
in the suburbs. She does not get into her writing course, a staggering
blow because writing and prizes and academic laurels have come to
seem like the sole achievements defining Esther’s character. Events
and brain chemistry conspire to loosen Esther’s grasp on sanity.