The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 6

She kept begging Buddy to show her interesting things at the hospital, and finally he agreed; one Friday she cuts all her classes and goes to visit him. She saw him and his friends cut up cadavers; he also showed her dead fetuses of different sizes in glass jars. Esther is proud of the way she calmly stares at all these gruesome things. She even attends a lecture where patients are wheeled in and quizzed about their ailments. One slide she remembers in particular is of a beautiful girl with a black mole on her cheek; the class is told she was dead twenty days later. But the bell rings, and Esther never finds out what was wrong with her.

Next she’s able to see a baby being born. She’s struck by how bizarre and torturous the delivery room looks and by the "inhuman" noises the pregnant mother makes. Later Buddy tells her the woman was given a drug which would make her forget she’d ever been in pain; Esther doesn’t quite buy this - clearly the woman was in real pain and felt it. Finally, "through the split, shaven place between her legs, lurid with disinfectant, I saw a dark, fuzzy thing appear." The baby is delivered and the first thing it does is pee in the doctor’s face. Someone tells the mother the baby is a boy, but she doesn’t respond.

Buddy asks what she thought and she said it was wonderful. What she was really wondering was if there were any other ways to have babies besides the one she’d just seen; the most important thing, she thought, was to see the baby come out of yourself and make sure it was yours. If you were going to be in so much pain, you might as well be awake for it.

They go back to Buddy’s room where they drink wine and Esther reads from a book of poetry. It seems the poetry reading was even Buddy’s idea; he wanted to understand what she saw in it. After she finishes reading, he says abruptly, "have you ever seen a man?" She knows immediately he means naked and says she hasn’t. He asks her if she wants to, and she reluctantly agrees. He strips down to nothing and stands in front of her: "The only thing I would think of was turkey neck and turkey gizzards and I felt really depressed." He seems hurt she doesn’t say anything, but asks her to undress. She tells him she will another time. 

They kiss and hug for a while and Esther feels better; she asks him, rather suddenly, if he’s ever slept with anyone. She expects him to say no and that he’s a virgin, but after a long pause he says he has. The previous summer he’d worked as a busboy in Cape Cod, and one of the waitress flirted with him constantly and he ending up sleeping with her. When she asks how many times they’d done it, Buddy admits they’d slept together the whole summer. Esther tries to do the math in her head and is truly shocked by this information; Buddy had always talked as if Esther was much more experienced than he was, even made her feel guilty for how much dating she’d done. 

It didn’t bother her that he wasn’t "pure" anymore; what bothered her was his attitude, pretending that he was. And she knew his mother was fanatical about virginity, and Buddy was very close to his mother. What would she think if she knew?

Esther is back in her dorm and had just decided to ditch Buddy for good when he called to tell her he’d come down with TB and was going to a place in the Adirondacks for medical help. She’d never heard him sound so upset before; she told him how sorry she was and that she’d write. But when she got off the phone all she felt was relief. She told everyone at school they were engaged but Buddy had TB; this was the perfect cover for her, so she could stay in all the time and study, and everyone thought she was brave, hiding her broken heart.

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