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The Bell Jar - Study Guide Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

This Study Guide consists of approximately 41 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Bell Jar.
This section contains 1,279 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)

Summary

Chapter 5

Esther is recovering from her bout of food poisoning. She has been given the day off to recover by Jay Cee. She receives a phone call from a man named Constantin. He is a simultaneous interpreter working at the United Nations, and he has been referred to her by Mrs. Willard, Buddy’s mother. Constantin stayed with the Willards when he first came to America. He and Esther make plans to go to the UN to have a meal. Esther’s upcoming date makes her begin to think about Buddy Willard. Everyone expects her to marry him when he recovers from tuberculosis and leaves the sanatorium, but Esther knows that she will never marry Buddy because she sees him as a hypocrite. She would love to be able to tell him how she feels; but, the fact that he has TB keeps her from doing so. Instead she humors his delusions that they will one day be married until the time that he recovers from his illness and she can tell him how she truly feels.

Esther spends the morning in bed reading the book that the Ladies’ Day people sent her. She reads a story about a fig tree. A fig tree grew between the properties of a Jewish man and a convent. Every day the Jewish man and a beautiful nun came to pick the figs. One day the two touch hands. The next day and from then on an ill-tempered maid came to pick the figs and count the figs the man took to make sure he did not take any more than she did. Esther saw herself and Buddy as the Jewish man and the nun. They met and had a shared experience; but, when something awful happened they went their separate ways.

Esther remembers when Buddy asked her to go to his Yale Junior Prom with him. Their mothers were good friends, but Esther had always admired Buddy from afar. She was surprised when during Christmas break he came to her house and told her he would be stopping by her college to see her sometime. She does not hear from him again until March when he stops by to visit her at her dorm. He is there to go to the Senior Prom with Joan Gilling. Joan is also from Esther’s home town and a year ahead of her in college. He is taking her since Joan’s mother asked Buddy’s mother if he would. Esther is jealous of Joan so she tries to make Buddy jealous by telling him she has two dates. He hands her a letter and leaves. The letter invites her to go to the Yale Junior Prom with him. Once the other girls in her house learn she is going to prom their attitude toward her changes. She is treated more kindly. Esther’s visions of romance are dashed when Buddy treats her like a friend during the prom. It is only after the prom that he takes her to see the view behind the chemistry lab and kisses her there. Buddy seems to be greatly affected by the kiss, but Esther feels very little.

Chapter 6

Esther has been begging Buddy to show her some of the sights of the hospital, and one weekend she finally gets her wish. She watches as he cuts up a cadaver and then he takes her to one of his lectures. The experience she seems to remember the most, however is when they witness the birth of a baby. The woman has been given a drug that will make her forget the pain of childbirth that she is experiencing while not doing anything to alleviate the actual pain she is suffering.

After watching the birth of the baby Esther and Buddy go back to Buddy’s room. They light a candle, open a bottle wine, and lie side by side on the bed as Esther reads poetry aloud. After Esther finishes reading the poem, Buddy suddenly asks her if she has ever seen a man naked. She says that she has only seen statues and agrees to look at Buddy. He undresses and stands before her. The only thought in her head is of turkey gizzards and necks, and she becomes depressed. Then Buddy wishes to see Esther naked. She declines, and he does not argue. He gets dressed once again.

After Buddy is dressed they kiss and finish the rest of the wine. Esther suddenly asks Buddy if he has ever had an affair. She expects him to say that he is a virgin like Esther and is saving himself for marriage. Buddy surprises her, however, when he admits that he has slept with someone. He tells Esther that it was a waitress he worked with last summer on Cape Cod. The waitress was older than Buddy and had seduced him. He further tells Esther that he slept with the woman at least thirty times. She cannot believe that Buddy has had that much experience. Esther feels betrayed that he has acted as though he was pure and innocent and she was the one who was experienced and sexy. She feels as if he has been ridiculing her the entire time.

Esther has just decided to break up with Buddy when he calls to tell her he has TB. He has to go to a sanatorium in the Adirondacks and wants her to write to him and possibly visit. She promises she will, but she does not feel sorry for Buddy at all. Instead, she see his TB as a punishment for the double life she feels that he has been living. Esther is not above using Buddy’s illness for her own gain either. She saves herself from further blind dates by telling all of the girls in her house about Buddy’s condition and that they are almost engaged. She receives a great deal of sympathy as a result.

Analysis

Esther and Buddy's relationship is more important to Buddy than it is to Esther. She liked him when she felt he was unattainable to her; but, once she has him she does not want him. She feels nothing when Buddy kisses, while he is greatly affected. Esther wants to end the relationship, but with Buddy in recovery from TB she cannot.

When Buddy takes Esther to the hospital, she is greatly affected by witnessing the birth of a baby. She sees the experience as man's subjugation of woman. The woman is given drugs so that she will not remember the pain of the experience. With no memory of the pain, she will allow herself to become pregnant again.

Buddy does not stir any passion in Esther. When she sees him naked, she is more disgusted than fascinated. She is even less inclined when she finds out that he is not a virgin. She does not like that he has had experience when she has not. This worries her. She cannot have a relationship when she feels at a disadvantage.

Discussion Question 1

Do you believe that Esther is a romantic? What experience has she had with men? Were they good experiences or bad ones? Why do you think she gets set up on so many blind dates?

Discussion Question 2

Describe Buddy and Esther’s relationship? What does their kiss say about their relationship? Do you think Esther is truly in love with Buddy?

Discussion Question 3

What is Esther’s reaction when Buddy tells her that he has had an affair with someone? Why do you think that she reacts as she does?

Vocabulary

Nonplussed, laden, insinuating, simultaneous, hypocrite, spontaneously, procession, infinite, psychosomatic, lurid.

This section contains 1,279 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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