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The Bell Jar - Study Guide Chapter 19 and Chapter 20 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 836 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)

Summary

Chapter 19

Joan tells Esther that she wants to be a psychiatrist. She is getting to leave Belsize. She will live in Cambridge with one of the nurses who needs a roommate. Esther is jealous. She has been accepted back into her college, but while she waits for the semester to start she is staying at Belsize. Dr. Nolan believes that she should not stay with her mother because it would not be good for her recovery.

Esther has town privileges. She meets Irwin outside of the library. She decides that he will be the man to whom she loses her virginity. She needs someone who is intelligent and experienced to balance her lack of experience. Irwin is a mathematics professor, and she believes him to be very experienced. She has felt like her virginity was a millstone around her neck since learning that Buddy Willard was not a virgin. She has been defending it for five years and is sick of it.

Esther tells Irwin she is a virgin, but she thinks he does not believe her. It hurt her, and she bleeds profusely afterward. Irwin takes her to Joan’s apartment because she cannot ask him to take her to Belsize. He does not know of her stay at the asylum. Joan takes her to the emergency center because she does not stop bleeding. The doctor tells her she is one in a million and tells her he can fix her problem.

Dr. Quinn comes into Esther’s room one night at Belsize. She asks Esther if she knows where Joan is. Joan returned to Belsize a few days after her and Esther’s trip to the Emergency Ward. The doctor is concerned because Joan has not returned after a trip to town to the movies. Esther tells her that she does not know where Joan could be. Dr. Quinn returns the next morning to tell Esther that they found Joan in the woods. She hanged herself.

Chapter 20

Buddy Willard comes to Belsize to see Esther. Buddy is concerned because two of the women he has dated have wound up in asylums. Joan has killed herself, and Esther attempted to kill herself. He wonders if he is the cause. Esther assures him that he is not to blame. Buddy questions who will marry Esther now that she has been in the asylum. She does not know.

Esther has not seen Irwin since their night together which led to her hospital stay. She breaks off the relationship over the phone. She is happy to be perfectly free.

Esther goes to Joan’s funeral at the request of her parents who tell her that she is one of Joan’s best friends. She recognizes many of the people there from her college and her hometown. She wonders what she is burying. She listens to her heart chant, I am, I am, I am.

Esther waits for her meeting with the board to decide if she can leave Belsize. Dr. Nolan tells her not to be scared. She wishes that she knew what is lying ahead, but there is no way to know that. Dr. Nolan calls her name, and Esther steps into the room to learn her fate.

Analysis

Esther loses her virginity and almost loses her life. She has held onto her virginity because she held it before her like a badge of honor. To be pure is to be honorable, and that is what she has been taught. She now believes that by having sex with a random man she will become a different person and a weight will be lifted from her. The experience is not a pleasant one for her, and the man is not sympathetic to her situation. She does not know what to expect from the experience, and he is not helpful in guiding her through it.

Esther feels that people blame her for Joan returning to Belsize. She thinks that the trip to the Emergency Ward may have affected her. Dr. Nolan tells her it is not her fault and Esther in turn tells Buddy that he had nothing to do with the women’s mental issues. At Joan’s funeral, Esther is burying her past and going on to what she hopes will be a bright future. She is happy to have a second chance, but she is scared of what lies ahead.

Discussion Question 1

Do you think that the trip to the Emergency Ward is to blame for Joan’s return to Belsize? Is it Esther’s fault? Why or why not?

Discussion Question 2

Why is losing her virginity so important to Esther? What kind of man is she looking to sleep with? Why does she choose Irwin?

Discussion Question 3

Why does Buddy come to see Esther? Do you think he is to blame for Esther and Joan’s mental instability? Why or why not?

Vocabulary

Interim, wistful, ruefully, incomprehensible, peremptory, surreptitiously, tedious, cascaded, torrents, resolutely, predicament, myopic, immaculate, dissociate, deluge, pristine, effaced, flamboyant.

This section contains 836 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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