The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 4

Esther can’t understand why these events keep going through her head as she’s talking to Jay Cee, but they do. All the time Jay Cee was talking, she saw Mr. Manzi floating above Jay Cee’s head. She felt sorry for Mr. Manzi, and felt she should apologize for lying.

Before Esther leaves for the luncheon, she sits in her office and thinks what it would be like to be an editor like Jay Cee. She also wishes Jay Cee was her real mother, she feels then she’d know what to do. Her own mother had been teaching shorthand and typing to support her family ever since Esther’s father had died when she was nine. Esther’s mother always nagged her to acquire a practical skill she could fall back on if she needed to.

At the luncheon, Esther washes her fingers in the finger bowls on the table and thinks about how far she’d come. She was able to go to college because she’d won a scholarship named after Philomena Guinea, a wealthy novelist who had attended her college in the early 1900s. Esther did do a little research to find out what Mrs. Guinea’s novels were like - they seemed to be all sentimental, silly overwritten, but they had made the author a millionaire. She wrote a thank-you note to Mrs. Guinea and was invited to her house for lunch. This occasion was the first time she saw finger bowls. There were some flowers floating in the water, and mistaking it for some exotic soup, Esther ate the whole thing. She only realized her huge mistake when she related the story later to a debutante she knew at college.

When they all emerged from the luncheon down on the street, it was gray and raining. Esther had been hoping to spend the day in Central Park, but instead is talked into a movie with the other girls. She didn’t think much of the movie and found the Technicolor grating: "Everybody in a Technicolor movie seems to feel obliged to wear a lurid costume in each new scene and to stand around like a clotheshorse with a lot of very green trees or very yellow wheat or very blue ocean rolling away for miles and miles in every direction."

Esther starts to feel nauseous and gets up to leave; she tells Betsy, who says she also isn’t feeling well so they both leave for the hotel. They hail a taxi, and all the way back to the hotel they vomit in the back of the cab. The driver isn’t pleased, but there’s nothing he can do. They were sick again in the elevator, and they take turns holding each other’s heads. When she gets to the bathroom, she throws up repeatedly, and then lies back on the cold floor.

She wakes up to someone pounding on the door. She tries to hide the signs of her sickness and walks out into the hallway, and promptly falls face down on the floor. She hears two women talking: one asks the other how many others there are, to which the other answers eleven, but since one was missing, only ten. One of the women volunteers to take care of Esther. She’s picked up and tucked into bed. She asks the person, who turns out to be the hotel nurse what’s happened, and is informed they’ve all been poisoned. The nurse tells her she’s been given an injection and she’ll soon fall asleep.

When she wakes up, Doreen is offering her a cup of broth; she drinks some and feels better immediately. Doreen tells her she almost died; Esther is sure it was the caviar, but it actually was the crabmeat, which they’d let sit out too long under the hot lights. As soon as the girls started getting sick, the people at Ladies Day had tested the food and discovered what was wrong. They sent presents - copies of The Thirty Best Short Stories of the Year to each girl, ostensibly to atone for almost killing them all. She gives Doreen her mirror/place card, which amuses her a great deal.

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