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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath-Free Study Guide-MonkeyNotes Online BookNotes
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THE BELL JAR - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS

CHAPTER 17

Summary

Esther is told that she is moving to Belsize. Esther resists going, thinking she is not well enough. Esther knows that Belsize is the best house. From there, people go back to work and their lives outside. Joan has already gone to Belsize. Esther has followed Joanís progress through hearing about her from others. Joan has walking, shopping, and town privileges. "Joan was the beaming double of my old best self, specially designed to follow and torment me." Esther consoles herself that at least at Belsize she will not have to worry about avoiding shock treatments. At Caplan, she can tell when one of the women gets shock treatment. She is always served her breakfast in her room and when she comes out, she is "quiet and extinguished, led like achild by the nurses." Esther wonders how Doctor Caplan is supposed to know that it is like sleeping since she had never had one: "How did she know the person didnít just look as if she was asleep, while all the time inside, she was feeling the blue volts and the noise."

At Belsize, Esther hears piano music. The patients at Belsize are all fashionably dressed and gossip about men. Esther thinks Joan treats her as if she doesnít know her. She imagines the others gossiping about her, saying she really belongs at Wymark. She decides to go join them in order to stop them from talking about her. DeeDee plays the piano and the other women play bridge and chat just as if they were in a college dormitory. One woman, Mrs. Savage, had gone to Vassar. She is a society woman who has daughters who are debutantes. Esther gets the idea that Joan and DeeDee are against her. Joan finds a picture of a woman in a magazine and asks Esther if it is a picture of her. Esther denies that it is. DeeDee says it could never be. The other women gather around. Ether continues to deny that it is she in the picture.


The night nurse comes over and the women ask her to join them in a bridge game. Esther pulls up a chair to watch and listens to the nurse talk about her hard life. She has two jobs, one at the private hospital and one at the state hospital. She tells them they are all right, "itís those boobies at the state place that worry me off my feet." The nurse looks at Esther as if she thinks Esther doesnít belong at Belsize and tells her she would not like life in the state hospital at all, calling her Lady Jane. She says they have no outside privileges because there arenít enough employees. The nurse plans to buy a car and then stop working for the two hospitals, only take in private cases. Esther thinks the nurse has been instructed to tell her the alternatives. She must get better or go from Belsize to Caplan to Wymark and then to the state hospital. Esther leaves them.

Esther wakes up feeling luxurious in the comforts of Belsize. She decides to resign herself to the idea of falling and enjoy the comforts while she can. A nurse comes into her room without a breakfast tray. She guesses that someone in Belsize is having shock treatments and the nurse has mistaken her for that person. She gets up and goes to the kitchen. She tells the maid that there has been a mistake since she has not gotten her breakfast tray. The maid tells her she gets no breakfast that day. Esther rushes out to the alcove to sit in a quiet corner with a blanket over her head. She is not as horrified at the shock treatment as she is at the betrayal of Doctor Nolan who told her she would be tell her in advance if the treatment became necessary.

A nurse calls her name, but she pulls away. Then Doctor Nolan comes out and puts her arm around her "like a mother." Esther yells at her that she promised to give her warning. Doctor Nolan says she is telling her and that sheís come especially early just to tell her and that she will take Esther over herself. Doctor Nolan says she will be with her the whole time and will bring her back. Esther sees that Doctor Nolan seems upset. Doctor Nolan wipes Estherís face and hooks her arm in Estherís arm like an old friend and helps her up. Doctor Nolan takes her to the basement that links all the various buildings of the hospital. The door is printed with the word "Electrotherapy." Esther hangs back and then says "Letís get it over with." A woman named Miss Huey takes her to the next room. Esther has her eyes shut and looks out only through slits in fear that the full view would strike her dead. On the bed, Esther tells Miss Huey to talk her through the procedure. Miss Huey tells her she wonít feel a thing. She puts something in Estherís mouth and tells her to bite down. Esther feels like "darkness wiped me out like chalk on a blackboard."

Notes

Estherís experience with shock therapy seems to be freeing. It seems to be an effective treatment for her, pulling her out of her deep depression. Her experience with Doctor Nolan is also quite good. She is the opposite of Doctor Gordon, who was distant and unconcerned with Estherís fears and problems. Doctor Nolan mothers Esther and treats her as a friend.

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