The Bell Jar - Chapter 15 and Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

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Chapter 15

Philomena Guinea, Esther’s benefactress, gets her transferred to a private hospital. During the journey, Esther contemplates jumping off the bridge over the Charles River. Her mother and brother flank her on both sides so she is unable to get out of the car. Esther knows that she should feel grateful to Philomena, but she feels nothing. She feels trapped under a bell jar.

Esther gets her own room at Caplan. There are no bars on the windows. Esther is unnerved by what happened on the bridge. She knows that even if her mother and brother had not been there she would not have made a move to jump. Another surprise is her doctor at Caplan. Dr. Nolan is a woman. Esther did not know there were women psychiatrists. The patients are given privileges to play golf and badminton.

Dr. Nolan has her first session with Esther. Esther tells her about the shock therapy that Dr. Gordon put her through. Dr. Nolan says that it was done wrong and if done properly the patient feels nothing and simply falls asleep. She finds shock therapy to be beneficial to some patients.

Esther attempts to make friends with the new woman who is moved into the room next to her. She thinks this will get her points with the nurses and maybe help her get privileges so that she can attempt to escape. The woman does not talk. She just stares straight ahead.

Esther is getting insulin injections three times a day. She does not see the benefit of them, but Valerie a fellow patient tells her that she has just not had a reaction yet. The injections are causing her to gain weight and look as if she is pregnant. Valerie shows Esther her scars where she has had a lobotomy. She used to be angry all the time, but is fine now. She tells Esther that the new woman, Mrs. Norris, that Esther is trying to befriend should not be in Caplan, but in Wymark, a facility where they keep the worse cases. Valerie likes it at Caplan and never wants to leave.

The nurse informs Esther that she is moving, and she is afraid they are taking her to Wymark. Actually, they are only moving her to the front of the house where there is a lot of sun. Miss Norris is also being moved, but she is moving to Wymark.

The nurse informs Esther that an old friend of hers has the room next to her new room. She encourages Esther to visit her. Esther is confused because she does not know who could possibly be in Caplan that she would know. She knocks on the door and goes in to find Joan, Buddy Willard’s girlfriend before he started dating her.

Chapter 16

Joan tells Esther how she came to be in Caplan. She was working for a fraternity and her boss was terrible. She went on sick leave for a reprieve from him. She would never answer her phone. Her doctor sent her to a psychiatrist. The doctor told her that she would benefit from group therapy. She is appalled at the idea of telling a group of strangers about how she wants to kill herself.

Joan then read about Esther in the paper. She has a pile of clippings that chronicle the events after Esther took the sleeping pills and hid in the cellar. Her mother reported her missing, and the police started a search. It was then discovered that the sleeping pills were missing. They used bloodhounds to try and find her. They did not think that they would find her alive. The last article details how Mrs. Greenwood went to do the laundry in the cellar and heard moaning coming from an unused hole and that was how Esther was found.

Joan took all of the money she had and went to New York because she felt it would be easier to kill herself there. Her parents found her, and she ended up putting her firsts through a window slicing her wrists. Esther asks her if she is alright now, and she says she guesses that she's fine.

Esther has a reaction to her medicine during the night. The nurse tells her that she will be better now. Esther is better for a little bit, but she tells Dr. Nolan she feels the same at their next session. Dr. Nolan tells her that she has decided that Esther will not be allowed to have visitors anymore. Esther's mother has been there and upset Esther. She has also had visits from a Christian Scientist who attempted to tell her that her problems dealt with her acceptance of God, her English teacher from high school who tried to teach her Scrabble to get her interested in writing again, and Philomena Guinea who complained that the doctors are not doing enough for her. These visits make her feel worse. So, Dr. Nolan is helping her by banning visitors. Esther tells Dr. Nolan that she hates her mother.


Philomena wants to help Esther because she had a breakdown of her own and the doctors were able to help her. She wants to give Esther the same opportunity. Esther is surprised to see Joan in the facility. The reader learns what happened after Esther took the sleeping pills and hid away. Esther’s plight is important to Joan. She attempts suicide after reading about Esther’s attempt. It shows how a vulnerable person can be influenced by other people's actions and what they read about. An unstable mind can get an idea from any action whether it is good or bad.

Esther is struggling to recover, but the outside world is barging in and impeding the process. The visitors make her feel bad about herself because she feels that they are judging her by what she used to be. This makes her uncomfortable and impairs her recovery. Dr. Nolan bans the visitors because she sees the affects they are having on Esther and to recover Esther must remain positive about herself and not reflect on how others see her.

Discussion Question 1

Why does Philomena Guinea help Esther by paying for her stay in a private hospital? Does she feel a connection with Esther because of her past experiences?

Discussion Question 2

Why does Esther hate her mother? How does Mrs. Greenwood treat her daughter? How does this affect Esther’s recovery?

Discussion Question 3

Why is Joan obsessed with Esther’s disappearance and her suicide attempt? Did Esther’s suicide attempt make Joan attempt to take her own life? Why?


Improbable, reposed, blithely, vigil, stile, tentatively, pretence, morale, ambiguous, phoney, confounded.

This section contains 1,121 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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