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Chapter 20 Notes from The Bell Jar

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The Bell Jar Chapter 20

Outside, there is fresh snow on the ground. It is near January and Esther is hopeful that she will return to school for the second semester. All she has to do is pass her exit examination. She is nervous because everyone at her school and in her town will know that she was in an institution.

"Doctor Nolan said, quite bluntly, that a lot of people would treat me gingerly, or even avoid me, like a leper with a warning bell. My mother's face floated to mind, a pale reproachful moon, at her last and first visit to the asylum since my twentieth birthday. A daughter in an asylum! I had done that to her." Chapter 20, pg. 193

Esther's mother had told her that they were going to pretend that her stay in the asylum was a bad dream. Esther thinks that to someone in the 'bell jar,' life itself is a bad dream. She remembers every part of her descent and her stay and she thinks that snowfall might cover them with forgetfulness. She doesn't want this to happen, because she thinks that her experiences are a part of her.

A nurse tells Esther that a man has come to see her. It is Buddy. She feels no emotion when she sees him. This disappoints her because she thought that she should feel something. They look at each other strangely for a moment. Buddy had driven through a snow storm to see her. He got his car stuck in a snow drift near the hospital. He stands a distance away from her. DeeDee was moved to Wymark after Joan's suicide. Esther gets a shovel from the grounds crew, and does most of the shoveling because of Buddy's TB. She feels very alive as she shovels out Buddy's car. Buddy looks as if he has changed in a serious way. He asks her if she thinks that he drives women crazy, mentioning that both she and Joan went to an asylum after dating him. Esther bursts out in laughter. He tries to restate his question and Esther is reminded of how Dr. Nolan assured her that she wasn't responsible for Joan's death. Dr. Nolan told her that many good psychiatrists lose patients to suicide no matter how hard they try. Esther tells Buddy that he had nothing to do with their problems.

Valerie talks to Esther about her leaving the hospital and Esther tries to convince her that it is not yet definite. Valerie tells her that they wouldn't give her the exit interview if they weren't almost completely sure. Esther reflects on her conversation with Buddy. She wonders aloud who would be willing to marry her after finding out she spent time in an asylum.

She calls Irwin and tells him to pay the bill from the emergency room. He is happy to hear from her and asks when he will get to see her again. She says never, and hangs up the phone. She is relieved that she will never have to speak to him again.

Joan's parents invite Esther to the funeral, because she was Joan's only remaining friend. Dr. Nolan tells her that she doesn't have to go, but Esther goes anyway. Everybody seems frozen at the funeral, Joan's body foremost.

"There would be a black, six-foot-deep gap backed in the hard ground. That shadow would marry this shadow, and the peculiar yellowish soil of our locality seal the wound in the whiteness, and yet another snowfall erase the newness in Joan's grave." Chapter 20, pg. 198

The doctors meet for their weekly conference and Dr. Nolan assures Esther that she will do fine after she leaves. She feels that there should be a ritual for leaving an asylum, similar to getting married; it is a rebirth and a start of a new life. She pauses as she enters the room for her exit evaluation, taking a last glance at all the faces she saw on her first day. She steps into the room.

Topic Tracking: Confusion 13
Topic Tracking: Sexuality 11

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