The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 20

In a week, if Esther passes her review before the board, she would be heading back to school in Philomena Guinea’s car. She looks at the snow piled "man-high" on the hospital grounds and thinks what her college in Massachusetts must look like. She worries how people would treat her when she returned; she had been bluntly warned, in fact, by Dr. Nolan that many people would avoid her. Her mother, less helpfully, tells Esther they’d pick up where they’d left off and pretend everything that came in between was a bad dream. Esther thinks: "To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream." Unfortunately, Esther thinks, she remembers everything: Doreen and the story of the fig tree and the broken thermometers and everything. She wishes she could forget everything - maybe it would be easier then. But, she thinks, all these things are part of her, part of her landscape.

Later, Buddy comes to visit her at the hospital, and for a moment she feels as if she’s back in college. When he appears, she evaluates her feelings and realizes she feels nothing for him. He tells her he’s stuck in a snow drift outside, and needs a shovel to dig out. She tells him he’s in no shape to be shoveling cars out, and he lets her do most of the work. Esther is thrilled to be outside in the fresh air, relieved to have a task to do so Buddy couldn’t ask her what she knew he wanted to. Later, at Belsize afternoon tea, he finally does ask - is it something in me, he asks, that drives women crazy? Esther can’t help herself and bursts out laughing and reassures Buddy he had nothing to do with it. But it wasn’t a silly question - Esther herself had asked Dr. Nolan if it might be her fault Joan killed herself, and Dr. Nolan reassured her that only Joan was responsible.

Assuming she passes the interview, Esther is leaving soon, and her fellow patients are both jealous and congratulatory. Valerie says goodbye by saying, "So long! Be seeing you." And Esther wonders if she’ll be back or not: "How did I know that someday - at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere - the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?"

Buddy, perhaps to get back at her for feeling useless while she shoveled the snow around his car, wonders out loud about who she would marry. Esther wonders herself who would have her after where she’d been.

Since she’d had sex with Irwin and ended up in the hospital, she hadn’t spoken to him. She gets a bill from the hospital which treated her, calls Irwin and demands that he pay it. Esther is very relieved; there’s no way Irwin can track her down, and she feels utterly free.

Esther attends Joan’s funeral and sees a variety of people there: former classmates and some of the doctors and nurses from the hospital. She thinks about the grave Joan’s body will be place in, a black six-foot-deep gash hacked in the hard ground. She takes a deep breath and listens to the sound of her own heart: "I am, I am, I am."

Esther waits outside the boardroom for her hearing, and despite previous reassurances by Dr. Nolan, is really nervous. She was dressed up for the interview, and thinks in her head how it feels sort of like a wedding day. But she wasn’t getting married. There should be, she thought, some sort of ritual for being born twice. Just then, Dr. Nolan motions her into the room. She pauses for a moment in the doorway and sees many of the doctors she remembers meeting when she was first admitted: "Their eyes and the faces all turned themselves toward me, and guiding myself by them, as by a magical thread, I stepped in the room."

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