Notes on The Bell Jar Themes

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The Bell Jar Topic Tracking: Sexuality

Sexuality 1: Sexuality permeates the first chapter. Esther is intrigued by Doreen's sexuality: her natural good looks and the way she shamelessly augments them with clothing. She follows her into a bar. Doreen is matched with a charming man; the only man who is interested in Esther is short and dull. She puts him off. She dutifully follows her friend to Lenny's apartment but flees when they begin to make out.

Sexuality 2: From the beginning of college, Esther has trouble with boys. This is not because she is ugly, but because her intelligence and individuality can set men ill-at-ease. Her earlier disappointments coupled with her teenage idolization of Buddy, make her more than willing to fall for him. She wants him to love her, not because she loves him, but because she wants to feel loved. They slip into a relationship after just a few kisses.

Sexuality 3: Esther is unimpressed when Buddy shows her his naked body, and she refuses to return the 'favor.' She is upset, however, when she finds out that Buddy has had sex on multiple occasions. What upsets her is not that he had sex, but that he had always pretended to be innocent and acted as if she was more experienced. She finds his explanation that he was seduced pathetic. She questions him about his mother and whether she knows this. Buddy's mother is powerless to control her son's sexuality. Esther feels betrayed and this marks the beginning of her dislike for Buddy.

Sexuality 4: Buddy's betrayal suddenly makes Esther ready to have sex. Despite the advice her mother had given her, Esther doesn't buy the importance of chastity and looks to lose her virginity. She first tries to seduce Eric, whose own sexual experience was sordid and harmful. She thinks that Constantin would be a good choice, even though he is short. Esther attempts to seduce him, but he falls asleep. This hurts her badly. She idealizes the Russian woman because she is smart and beautiful. After she leaves Constantin's apartment, she feels sexually defeated.

Sexuality 5: Although they do not talk about sex when they talk about marriage, sexuality is still a subtext. Not only does Esther not want to be tied down to one man emotionally, but she does not want to be attached to one man sexually. She is still bitter towards Buddy because of his sexual betrayal.

Sexuality 6: Marco is a kind of man that Esther has not encountered before. He is a woman-hater and she is powerless to stop him from making her dance. He gives her a diamond pin at the beginning of their 'date' and it is the first diamond Esther has ever been given. When he throws her on the ground, she musters the strength to fight him off. She punches him and he demands the pin back. It is as if he expected that the diamond pin required some sort of sexual exchange.

Sexuality 7: As soon as she gets back from New York City, Esther sends Buddy a letter telling him that she is engaged to someone else. She cannot tell him that she would rather be alone than with him, so she lies. When she decides that she needs more life experience to write a novel, she immediately associates living with having sex. She cannot conceive of a whole person who is not in some way sexual.

Sexuality 8: Esther is still pursuing the loss of her virginity. She uses her old pseudonym when she meets the sailor and must construct elaborate lies to hide her own paranoid behavior. She has become more desperate in her search for what she thinks might be normalcy. She wants to write but thinks she cannot write until she has had sex.

Sexuality 9: Esther is still fixated by sexuality. She has no interest in seeing Buddy, but she defines DeeDee and Joan in terms of what sort of men they would be able to attract and keep. When she finds DeeDee and Joan in bed together, she is both disgusted and intrigued. She reacts with disdain when Joan admits that she likes her, but does not challenge Dr. Nolan's validation of their attraction. She is surprised that Dr. Nolan supports her need for a sexual experience and she goes to get a diaphragm to free her from the worry that she will get pregnant.

Sexuality 10: Esther has sex with Irwin, the first eligible man she meets. She does not become attached to him, and is only interested in losing her virginity. When she bleeds, her relief at having her first sexual encounter makes her overlook the severity of her hemorrhaging. When she finally realizes that she is in trouble, she rushes to Joan's and then to the emergency room. When she finds out that she will live, her only concern is whether or not she will be able to have sex again. She is happy when she learns she can.

Sexuality 11: Esther's sexual demons have left her after her first experience. She successfully meets Buddy and feels nothing for him. In the same way, she coolly puts off Irwin and makes him pay for her emergency room bills. She has overcome her fear of sex and in doing this, she has overcome her fear of men.

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