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THE BELL JAR - PLOT SUMMARY AND NOTES
Esther cannot figure out why Mr. Manzi came to mind when Jay Cee was talking to her about her career. She feels very guilty about fooling Mr. Manzi. Jay Cee handed her a pile of story manuscripts and she spent the rest of the morning reading them and typing out her critiques of them. Jay Cee went to lunch that day with two writers, one of whom was becoming very popular and the other of whom was not. She would have to be careful in distributing flattery. At lunch, Jay Cee released Esther to go to the luncheon. After Jay leaves, Esther sits in the office wondering what it would be like if she were Ee Gee, a famous editor. She wishes her mother were like Jay Cee. Her mother teaches shorthand and typing to support the family since her husband, Estherís father, had died. She is always pushing Esther to learn shorthand after college so she would have a practical skill as well as a degree.
At the banquet, she cleans her hands in the finger bowl. She remembers the first time she was presented with a finger bowl. It was at Mrs. Philomena Guineaís house. She had given the scholarship to Estherís college, which Esther had won. She is a wealthy novelist who went to Estherís college and then wrote a best selling novel that was made into a movie. When she had written a thank you note, Mrs. Guinea had invited her to lunch. When the fingerbowl was sent around with cherry blossoms floating in it, Esther had drank it and eaten the crisp blossoms. Mrs. Guinea never said anything and Esther only realized her mistake later when she told someone at college about the dinner.
When Esther got to Ladiesí Day, she had been taken in a cab along with Betsy and Emily Ann Offenback to a movie, "a football romance" in Technicolor. The plot parcels out a happy future for the nice woman and an future of loneliness for the sexy woman. At some point in the movie, she begins to feel sick. Betsy is also feeling sick, so the two leave together. In the cab ride on the way back, they both vomit over and over. When they get to their floor, all the bathrooms are full of women vomiting. She faints and when she regains consciousness, she hears the hotel nurse talking to a doctor about her. All the eleven women who had attended the banquet are suffering from food poisoning.
The next time she is aware of her surroundings, Doreen is giving her a cup of soup. After drinking the soup, she feels "purged and holy and ready for a new life." Ladiesí Day had done tests on all the food served at the banquet and found the crab meat had ptomaine in it. They had sent gifts for the eleven women. Esther, feeling "so pure as a result" of the illness, is eager to see the present. It is a copy of The Thirty Best Short Stories of the Year.
As in chapter two, Plath provides another image of cleansing here. The first is a bath, a baptism into pureness. This is a purgation which leaves Esther feeling holy and ready for a new life. The symbols are provided in a fairly heavy-handed way, with the gloss (interpretation) provided in both cases. This purgation is followed by a sign--the book of short stories. Not surprisingly, short story writing will be Estherís next focus. The poisoning is also symbolic of the poisoned gift of the prize to go to New York. Itís supposed to be good for Esther in launching her career. Instead, it contributes to her breakdown.