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The Bell Jar | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar | Chapter 10 | Summary



Esther takes the train home in a borrowed skirt and blouse, her face still streaked with blood from Marco's attack of the night before. Mrs. Greenwood meets her at the train station and immediately announces that Esther has been rejected from the summer writing course. This news is a devastating blow for Esther, though she realizes that at some level she has been expecting it.

As Dodo Conway pushes a baby carriage up and down Esther's street, the blows to Esther's psyche keep coming. Jody calls to verify plans regarding Esther's acceptance into the writing program. Harvard summer school offers Esther the sad opportunity to take another, less desirable, course. Buddy writes that he is probably falling in love with someone else, though he is willing to give Esther another chance.

Esther is at a complete loss. She begins a novel about a woman writing a novel but abandons it. Mrs. Greenwood offers to teach Esther shorthand, but Esther complains of a headache. Esther also looks into courses at the city college where her mother teaches, and discovers that their course of study is more rigorous than her honors course, further contributing to her sense of inadequacy. Maybe Esther should start working on her senior thesis on James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. However, when Esther tries to read, the letters jiggle and change into bizarre shapes. When Esther visits the family doctor to request sleeping pills, the doctor tells Esther she needs to see a psychiatrist, Doctor Gordon.


Readers never learn the exact nature of Esther's mental illness, but this chapter makes it clear that she most likely suffers from what is now called psychotic depression, a serious mood disorder in which depression is accompanied by delusional thinking.

Two psychic injuries are responsible for Esther's depression. The first is the loss of her father when Esther was nine. Traumatic losses often make the sufferer more apt to exaggerate the impact of subsequent sad or frightening events. As readers know, Esther decides she has a "dirty nature" after a night on the town. She also judges herself much too harshly for not being more successful at her magazine internship: the fact that she is not the star of the group hardly means that she is a failure.

Esther's second psychic injury is the rejection from the writing course. This may seem trivial: lots of people do not get into courses they want to take. But bear in mind that Esther has never been rejected from a class. She has pushed herself so hard and for so long that she has never had to face real failure. In the face of Esther's preexisting depression, being rejected is literally unbearable.

Finnegans Wake is an experimental text by James Joyce largely considered one of the most difficult English language texts to master. In an attempt to recreate the experience of sleeping and dreaming, Joyce abandons literary tradition to employ idiosyncratic language, stream of consciousness, allusion, and association. While the movement of the letters seems to suggest Esther's unstable mental state, it is ironic that such a reading may be very much in keeping with Joyce's style.

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