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THE BELL JAR - SUMMARY AND NOTES
"I wouldn’t have missed Lenny’s place for anything." Esther describes his apartment as looking like the inside of a ranch. It has wood paneling, white bearskin rugs, low beds covered with Indian rugs, the stuffed heads of animals hanging on the walls and a stuffed rabbit head. He turns on the music along with a recording of his own disc jockey’s voice. Doreen is excited by this. She calls Esther Elly and asks her to stick around because she "wouldn’t have a chance if he tried anything funny. Did you see that muscle?"
Lenny comes back into the room detailing the cost of his recording equipment. He brings drinks for them and offers to call a date for Esther. She refuses and he looks relieved. He and Doreen dance while Esther sits cross legged on one of the beds, but she feels the room spinning, so she moves to sit on a bearskin rug. She feels invisible watching the two of them dance. She feels demoralized watching the two of them falling for each other. She compares it to seeing Paris from an express caboose heading in the opposite direction.
Esther lies back to sleep. She then hears Lenny roar and opens her eyes to see Doreen biting his earlobe. He yells, "Leggo, you bitch!" and swings her onto his shoulder and turns around in circles. Esther notices that Doreen’s breasts have come out of her dress and Lenny is trying to bite her hip through her dress.
Esther lets herself out the door and leans with both hands on the banister to make it down the stairs. When she gets out to the street, she doesn’t know where she is. She gets to a street corner to read the sign, looks at her map, and realizes she’s forty-three blocks from home. She walks home, counting the blocks. By the time she gets home, she’s sober. When she looks at herself in the elevator mirror, she looks like a "big, smudgy-eyed Chinese woman." She is appalled at "how wrinkled and used up" she looks.
Inside her room, she finds it filled with smoke and opens the window. She feels depressed looking out the window. She can’t hear anything. She looks at the phone and tries to think of the people who have her number, but she can only think of giving her number to Buddy Willard’s mother who knows a simultaneous interpreter at the UN. She can imagine that Mrs. Willard would introduce her to someone unattractive since she wants Esther to marry Buddy, who is taking the cure for tuberculosis in a hospital in upper New York. Mrs. Willard had even arranged for Esther to get a job as a waitress at the resort nearby. She and Buddy couldn’t imagine why Esther chose New York instead.
She looks in the mirror and the image seems warped. She decides to take a bath. She loves hot baths and feels that they cure almost any ill. She lies in the bath almost for an hour and feels herself "growing pure again." She thinks to herself that everything else is dissolving, Doreen, Lenny, Frankie, the drinks, the dirt of New York, and she is "pure and sweet as a new baby."
She is awakened by knocking and the name Elly being called over and over again. Another voice calls Miss Greenwood over and over again until she answers the door. She sees Doreen slumped against the doorjamb. Doreen falls into her arms. The night maid leaves. Esther feels like running after her and disowning any likeness to Doreen. Doreen keeps asking to lie down. Esther thinks that if she takes Doreen into her room, she will never get rid of her again and she cannot carry her down the hall to her own room, so she dumps her on the carpet and shuts the door. She thinks Doreen won’t remember what happened anyway. As she lowers Doreen onto the carpet, Doreen vomits brown liquid. Doreen gets heavier. Her hair flows into the puddle of vomit and Esther goes back to bed.
That night she makes a decision that she will watch Doreen and listen to her, but she would be loyal to Betsy in her heart. She decides she resembles Betsy not Doreen at heart.
The next morning she opens her door to see an empty corridor with only a faint dark stain on the carpet where the vomit had been. It looks as if someone has just spilled a glass of water.
On this horrible night out in New York, Esther realizes that she cannot have any allegiance to Doreen. The alternatives of Doreen and Betsy seem pretty unbearable in light of Esther’s disposition. Betsy, the Pollyana Cowgirl, who aspires to get married, is given only the character trait of being obedient of authority. She goes where she’s expected and does what she’s told. Doreen, on the other hand, doesn’t rebel for much purpose. She chooses a fake cowboy disc jockey who swings her around on his shoulders and calls her a bitch. Esther’s position in New York seems more unbearable after this night of renouncing Doreen.
Esther feels pure when she takes a bath. It’s unclear what makes her feel impure at this point, since the only norm she violates is drinking. Perhaps it is the company she has kept. Perhaps it is something deeper. The idea of purity was certainly an important ideological control over women’s sexuality during the time this novel is set. Purity in this sense means chastity, sexual chastity. The ideal of purity will resurface later in the novel.