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Notes on The Bell Jar Themes

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The Bell Jar Topic Tracking: Confusion and Insanity

Confusion and Insanity 1: Esther's confusion begins the novel. She has been swept up into a fast paced New York City life and cannot take it. She is no longer sure what decisions are her own and which are those of others. Half-heartedly, she follows the others girls to events and lets herself be led by Doreen to the bar with Lenny and Frankie. She falls asleep at Lenny's apartment and wakes to see the pair going at it. When she gets home, she is more lost than ever.

Confusion and Insanity 2: When Jay Cee badgers her about her future plans, Esther falls into a pit of confusion. She knows that she wants to write, but she has no clue if she is qualified, or how to go about becoming a successful writer. Jay Cee gives her more requirements than she thought she needed. This makes her feel more confused and helpless.

Confusion and Insanity 3: Even though she didn't want to go see Buddy, she was powerless to stop herself. She just couldn't say anything. She freely admits that she is always torn between conflicting desires. This confusion makes her unsatisfied about where she is. Buddy used to deride this but now that he is more desperate, he tries to embrace it. It is too late; she sees through his guise. She is not confused about whether or not she wants to be with Buddy Willard.

Confusion and Insanity 4: Esther finds herself crying in Jay Cee's office for no apparent reason. The tears just keep flooding in. They fall because she is overwhelmed with the weight of everything that has been bothering her. She doesn't want to leave her room and is overwhelmed by the fact that she has to pick up her clothing that is strewn about the floor. She is not confused about the fact that Marco was disgusted with her, but when she finally gets home, she is overcome by depression and anguish. She reacts by throwing all of her clothing from the roof of the building.

Confusion and Insanity 5: Esther's confusion and desperation from her last night in New York does not abate with her departure. When she gets home and finds out that she cannot take the writing course that she wanted to take, it only worsens. She thinks she is going to write a novel. When she can't, she almost decides to start learning shorthand. Then she tries to work on her thesis, but she is unable to focus. She decides to not write a thesis, but finds out that she has not completed the required courses to become a regular English major. All she has left is sleep, and it will not come.

Confusion and Insanity 6: Esther no longer wants to bathe or change clothing because it does not make sense to her. She cannot sleep, and when she tries to write a letter, her handwriting is foreign and strange. She begins to get interested in suicide. It is a simple alternative to the complex and confusing mental state in which she lives. Dr. Gordon only makes matters worse. He is a total mystery. Shock therapy frightens her but she can find no way to get away from it.

Confusion and Insanity 7: Esher tries to avoid the electroshock therapy, but she can't. When she has it, it is worse that she feared. This is the final strike. She is no longer able to put up any sort of resistance. She gives in to her despair and from that point on she seeks only her death. She experiments with a razor in the bath tub and goes to an island planning to kill herself. She no longer wants to live. The confusion has descended and it has overcome her.

Confusion and Insanity 8: Esther's madness and confusion have caused her to seek out death every moment of the day. She tries to hang and choke herself. When she goes swimming with her friends, she tries to drown on purpose. These things do not work. Esther is not completely insane. She knows she needs help, but she also knows that the kind of help she needs is too expensive. She has given up on life. She finally decides to kill herself by overdosing on sleeping pills and hiding herself in the basement wall.

Confusion and Insanity 9: In the hospital life does not become any more lucid for Esther. She claims that she cannot eat or sleep even though the doctors point out that she is doing both. She does not trust anyone and she overreacts to simple things. She kicks the black man, breaks the mirror, and kicks the box of medical tools near the bed. This makes everyone think that she is crazy. Esther does not find this behavior to be crazy. She is lost in a fog.

Confusion and Insanity 10: Esther does not really understand her surroundings. She thinks that Valerie is normal, only to find out that she has had a lobotomy. She attaches herself to Mrs. Norris and waits for her to talk, but she never does. When she is moved to a better part of the house, she doesn't understand it because she doesn't see herself getting better.

Confusion and Insanity 11: Esther meets Joan and sees someone else who is confused. To her, Joan's sickness seems bizarre and distant. She doesn't really understand her but she is interested in her nonetheless. She has an episode because of her mother and wakes up to find herself pounding on the bed and screaming. She slowly begins to understand that her mother causes some of her problems. She is happy when Dr. Nolan tells her that she will not be having any visitors for a while.

Confusion and Insanity 12: Esther is very sane during her experience with Irwin. Although she panics a little because she is bleeding, she does not lose her cool. No one understands Joan's behavior. For some reason or another she is brought back to the hospital. She disappears and they find her dead in the woods. Esther realizes that Joan's fate could have been hers. She learns the danger of her confusion in the hardest way.

Confusion and Insanity 13: Esther deals with Joan's death and goes to her funeral, handling it all with clarity. When she meets Buddy, she realizes for the first time that he is confused and self-absorbed. Her last worry is passing the exit interview. Right before, she calms down and has a moment of clarity as she enters the room and her new life.

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