The Bell Jar - Chapter 17 and Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

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Chapter 17

Esther is sent to Belsize the best house in the asylum. A patient is sent there when they are ready to prepare for matriculation back into society. Esther is puzzled by this move because she does not feel that she is ready for Belsize. Joan is there and Esther is not keen on seeing her again. She believes, however, that at Belsize she will not have to worry about shock treatments. Shock treatments are the one thing that she fears the most. She is happy that she will be leaving them behind.

The women at Belsize are fashionably dressed and several are married. They are allowed to shop downtown and visit friends. They also have private jokes. Joan seems at home with these women and treats Esther coolly like she is inferior.

Joan, DeeDee and Loubelle joke with Esther about seeing her picture in a fashion magazine. The photograph shows a girl in a strapless evening gown with a whole lot of boys bending in around her. The nurse comes in and asks if the girl in the photo is really her and she says no that Joan is mistaken. She will not rise to their banter. Esther stays in the lounge while the women play bridge. She can see that the nurse believes she should not be at Belsize.

The next morning Esther is not given her breakfast and she becomes worried. Only people who are going to have shock treatment are not served their breakfast in their rooms. When she goes to inquire about her breakfast, she is told she will get it later. Esther runs to the salon and hides in the corner with her blanket over her head. She is angry with Dr. Nolan for not telling her. She had promised to would tell her before giving her a shock treatment. If she had known the night before, she would be prepared for it.

Dr. Nolan comes and hugs her and tells her she came early to tell her about the treatment. She did tell her the night before because she did not want to keep her awake. She promises to go with Esther and be with her the whole time so that everything will happen the way she promised. The doctor leads Esther through the basement that connects the buildings to the Electrotherapy room. Miss Huey escorts Esther in the room and she sees the machine behind the bed and masked people flanking the bed. Miss Huey helps her climb onto the bed and fits the machine on her. She sets something on Esther’s tongue and in a panic she bites down and is enveloped by darkness.

Chapter 18

Esther wakes up to find Dr. Nolan standing by her calling her name. The doctor leads her outside and Esther feels the bell jar hanging suspended above her head not encompassing her. The doctor asks if it is like she told her it would be. Esther affirms it is. Dr. Nolan informs her that she will be having shock treatments three times a week.

Joan comes to Esther’s room telling her that she got a letter. She shows Esther a pale blue envelope. Esther shows her an identical pale blue envelope. Buddy Willard is out of the hospital and wants to visit. Joan only liked Buddy for his parents. Her parents are quite different from the Willards and Joan liked seeing them until Buddy started dating Esther and Joan had to stop visiting them. Joan wants to invite him and his mother so she can see Mrs. Willard. She never cared for Buddy.

Esther catches Joan and DeeDee together in DeeDee’s room. Esther is confused by the relationship because she does not understand woman and woman relationships and man and man relationships. Esther thinks about the relationships in her life and realizes that she attract weird old ladies. Joan tells Esther that she prefers Esther over Buddy.

Esther goes to a doctor to get contraception. It is illegal in Massachusetts. Dr. Nolan sends her to a friend of hers. She professed to Dr. Nolan that she did not like being under a man’s thumb and wanted the freedom to sleep around like men with having a baby. Dr. Nolan says she could. Esther tells her about the Defense of Chastity and the doctor dismisses it as propaganda and gives her the name and address of the doctor.

Esther feels guilty that she has no engagement ring and contemplates making up a story for the doctor on why she is getting fitted for contraception. The doctor, however, asks her no questions; so, she does not have to lie. She sees getting the contraception as freedom.


Esther is confused by her move to Belsize because she does not feel ready for the freedom that she can obtain there. She does believe that she has no fear of shock treatments there. This belief is proven false, and she feels betrayed by Dr. Nolan. The doctor realizes her error and promises to help the young girl through the experience. She truly wants to help her, and the treatment is nothing like her first one with Dr. Gordon.

Dr. Nolan wants Esther to get better. So sh listens to her fears and tries to help alleviate them. Esther talks to her about her confusion of same sex relationships, and the doctor tells her that the women are seeking tenderness from one another. Esther thinks about her own relationships with women. A famous poet at the college lived with another woman and did not understand Esther’s proclaiming that she might someday want a husband and kids. The woman questioned Esther's views about her future. Esther thinks about her relationship with Philomena Guinea and Jay Cee. They all want to adopt her and make her like them.

Esther gets contraception to get control over her body. She does not want to be told that she cannot have sex unless she is ready for the consequences. She did not know there was an alternative until she talked to Dr. Nolan. She believes the Chastity Defense because she is taught nothing else. Dr. Nolan opens up an avenue that will help her take control of her life.

Discussion Question 1

Why do you think that Dr. Nolan chose to give Esther shock treatment after moving her to Belsize? Why was this time so different from the first time? How does Dr. Nolan differ from Dr. Gordon?

Discussion Question 2

Why does Esther see getting contraception as freedom? How does it make her feel?

Discussion Question 3

Why is Esther so confused by lesbian relationships? How has her life been affected by lesbian? Why is she concerned by these relationships?


Placid, foreboding, dishevelled, disdainful, intricate, pallid, cadaverous, evasively, renouncing, maxims, wry, ingenious, revelation, communal, innocuous, puling.

This section contains 1,142 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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