The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 10

The next morning she has to trade her bathrobe to Betsy for some clothes, as she didn’t remember to save any to wear. Of course, the clothes are very girly and don’t suit Esther. She also purposely hadn’t washed the dried blood from her fight with Marco off her face from the night before. If she moves her face or smiles, the blood would flake off, so she keeps her face as still as possible.

As she steps off the train, "the motherly breath of the suburbs enfolded me." Her mother is waiting for her, and she immediately asks what happened to her face. She replies that she cut herself. She gets into the back seat of the car so her mother can’t look at her on the way home. Her mother tells her, as they start home, that she didn’t get into the writing course she’s applied to. Esther feels as if someone has punched her in the stomach; this was the only thing she had to look forward to the whole summer. As they near home, she slinks even lower in her seat, not wanting to be recognized. Each house she passes seems like another bar in her prison.

The next morning Esther wakes up as her mother gets up and gets ready to go to work; she taught shorthand and typing to city college girls and wouldn’t return until the middle of the afternoon. She hears the squeak of baby carriage wheels out front and slinks over to the window to peep out and see who it is. She was being sneaky because a mean old lady neighbor of theirs, Mrs. Ockenden, had twice called her mother: once to say she’d seen Esther kissing someone in a car out front, and once to say she’d seen her at her bedroom window changing at night. 

When she raises her eyes to the level of the window, she sees the carriage-pusher is Dodo Conway. Dodo was a Catholic who had gone to Barnard and married an architect; she had six children. In spite of herself, Esther was rather intrigued by her. Everybody in the neighborhood loved Dodo, but the size of her family was talked about - she was said to be expecting her seventh. Suddenly Esther is irritated with Dodo’s progress up and back on the sidewalk with the baby carriage: "Children made me sick," she thinks. 

She crawls back in bed, miserable, thinking she has nothing to look forward to. She’s awoken later by the phone; she answers it, trying to disguise her voice, but it’s a friend of hers, Jody, who only thinks she has laryngitis. Esther was supposed to have shared an apartment in Cambridge with Jody and one other girl, assuming she got into her writing class. Esther gives up her spot in the apartment and feels even more depressed. She opens her rejection letter, which includes directions on how to choose another course if she wants; she calls the school and says she won’t be coming at all.

She had also received a letter from Buddy, who hints around asking for her to visit. She flips his letter over, writes that she is engaged to a simultaneous interpreter, and that she never wants to see him again as she didn’t want the father of her children to be a hypocrite. She puts it back in the same envelope and addresses it to Buddy.

She decides she’ll spend the summer writing a novel. She sets herself up at a typewriter, with lots of paper, and decides her heroine will be herself, but in disguise. She’d call her Elaine. The first paragraph comes quickly, but then Esther sits for an hour trying to think of what would come next. Her mother walks in and asks if she’s going to get dressed. The trouble was, Esther thinks, is that she didn’t have enough experience, hadn’t had any exciting things happen to her. By the end of supper her mother had convinced her to study shorthand in the evenings. She feels hopeful at first, as she sees her mother writing squiggles on an old blackboard; but as she thought about actually getting a job, she’s depressed and bored. She tells her mother she has a headache and goes to bed.

She decides to put off the novel until she’d been to Europe. Instead, she’d spend the summer reading Finnegan’s Wake, a novel by James Joyce, and working on her thesis. Or maybe she’d put off school for a year and apprentice herself to a pottery maker; various possibilities swirl through her head. She sees her life measured out in telephone poles; she counted up to nineteen, but couldn’t see beyond that.

The next morning, she pretends to sleep until her mother leaves, but her eyelids no longer seemed to shut out the light properly; she climbs under the mattress to try and find some darkness. She tries to read Finnegan’s Wake, but she can’t concentrate and the letters all start to swim together on the page in front of her. She counts the letters, and finds there are a hundred. The words began to look all twisted, like in a funhouse mirror. They began to grow barbs and rams’ horns; then they resemble a foreign language. 

She decides to give up on her thesis and the honors program. But then she looks up the requirements for a regular English major and realizes if she switches, she’d already be behind, since that program is much less flexible. She looks up the requirements for an English major at the college her mother teaches at, and they’re even more complicated and stringent. She thinks that even the stupidest person at her mother’s college, which she had never thought was a good school, was probably smarter than her. She considers being a typist or a waitress, but hates the idea.

The scene switches quickly to the office of Esther’s family doctor. She’s asking the doctor for more sleeping pills, saying the ones she’d been given weren’t working anymore. The doctor, Teresa, asks her a few question and then gives her a referral to a psychiatrist.

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