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The Bell Jar - Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 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.
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Summary

Chapter 7

Esther meets Constantin. He is shorter than she is, but she finds him handsome. They get along well together and spend time talking badly about Mrs. Willard. Esther is happier with Constantin than she has been since she was nine years old, the age when her father died. It had never occurred to her before that she was only truly happy up until the age of nine. Esther goes with Constantin to the UN where she watches the interpreters work. As she sits between Constantin and a Russian interpreter, she thinks about all of the things she cannot do. She could not cook like her grandmother or mother and she did not know shorthand. Her mother told her she needed to learn it in order to get a good job after college. She continued to list in her mind the things she could not do. She started to feel inadequate. The only thing she was good at was winning scholarships and prizes and that was coming to an end for her.

She imagined her life branching out like a fig tree. At the tip of each branch was a potential future for Esther. One branch had a husband and children, another was a famous poet, another was a brilliant professor, and yet another one was an amazing editor. There were also branches leading to travel to far away places in Europe and Africa as well as a branch with many lovers with unusual names and occupations. Esther feels unable to choose any one branch because she wants them all; therefore, she does not choose any. Instead, she watches as each chance slips away.

Esther and Constantin go to dinner where she drinks too much and decides that she will let him seduce her. She remembers the only boy with whom she has ever discussed sex. His girlfriend ran away with someone else and Esther, the only one around when he discovered it, tried to cheer him up. Eric felt that people acted like animals when it came to sex. He told Esther about the first time he had sex. He went to a whorehouse where the prostitute did not even remove her dress. The experience had made sex the equivalent of going to the toilet. He had decided that if he fell in love with a woman he would not have sex with her because he would not debase her by such an act and lower her to being an animal.

Esther goes to Constantin’s apartment with him. She is ready to be seduced, but part of her remembers the advice of her mother and the general idea that women should wait until they are married to have sex. Her mother sent her an article saying that men liked women to be pure so they could teach them about sex. Yes, men would try to persuade women to have sex with them and assure them that they would marry them later. However, generally, once they got what they wanted the men would lose respect for the woman and no longer want to marry her. Esther decides that if she cannot find a man who can remain pure, then there is no reason for her to stay pure. Constantin, however, shows little sign of wanting to seduce her. She even goes to lie down on his bed. He joins her at one point, but falls asleep.

Esther imagines what it would be like to be married to Constantin. She imagines the life of a wife to be a dull one. She cannot feel that she would be happy with such an existence, catering to a family day in and day out. Esther remembers Buddy insinuating that once she was married and had children that she would not want to write poems any longer. Esther sees this as a death sentence to her creativity. Therefore, marriage must require some form of brainwashing in order to comply tamely to such a life. When Constantin wakes up, he takes Esther home.

Chapter 8

Mr. Willard drives Esther to the Adirondacks to see Buddy. It is the day after Christmas, and Esther grows gloomy as they near their destination. Mr. Willard tells Esther that he and his wife have always wanted a daughter hinting that they would readily accept her as Buddy’s wife. Buddy gives Esther an ashtray that he has made as a present. His father leaves the two alone. He is driving back alone, and Esther will take the train home.

Buddy shows Esther a poem that he has had published in a magazine. She thinks it is dreadful, but she lies to him about it. Esther tries to keep her distance from him fearing his illness, but he tells her that he is not positive so cannot give her anything. Buddy asks Esther to marry him. She resists the impulse to laugh. Esther tells him that she is never going to marry and tries to explain to him that she does not know what she wants in life and does not want to be tied down.

Buddy takes Esther skiing. She has never been in her life and ends up breaking her leg. Esther is happy zipping down the hill. She wants to ski down the hill again, but she cannot because of her broken leg.

Analysis

Esther realizes that she has not been happy since her father's death. His death has affected her life, and she has not even realized it. She feels that her mother does not believe in her. She is always telling Esther that she needs to learn shorthand to get a good job after college. This makes her feel inadequate. It seems like her life is now on a downhill slide. After college, she will be nothing. Esther is confused about what she wants to do with her life. This confusion feeds her inadequacy.

Esther is confused about sex. She sees it as fascinating yet disgusting. She has not experienced it and sees it as a another way to enslave women. If she keeps her virginity, she will not be held under the thumb of any man. This leads her to refuse Buddy's offer of marriage. She will not bow down to any man.

Discussion Question 1

Why does Esther decide that she will let Constantin seduce her? What does it mean for a girl of Esther’s age and this time period to decide to have sex before marriage? How would society view her?

Discussion Question 2

How does Esther’s view on marriage differ from other girls her age? How would marriage affect some of the future options she saw on the fig branches? How did the marriage of the Willards and that of her own parents affect her viewpoint?

Discussion Question 3

Do you think that Buddy is surprised by Esther's refusal of his marriage proposal? What reason does Esther give for refusing?

Vocabulary

Intuition, protegee, idiom, transcribe, velds, notorious, balalaika, insubstantial, indistinguishable, totalitarian, renderings, tortuous, succumbed, malady, neurotic, rivulet, dissociate, disconsolate, inconsequential, insentient, pivot.

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