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The Bell Jar | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar | Chapter 14 | Summary



Esther awakes to the dim realization that she is being pulled out of her self-chosen grave site. She awakens blindly in the hospital. Esther's mother, brother, and George Bakewell, a church friend and doctor at the hospital, visit her. Asking the nurse for a mirror, Esther first thinks the reflection is a painting of a crazed woman, but when she smiles, the figure in the painting also smiles. Recognizing herself, Esther laughs at the horror of her image and dashes the mirror to the ground.

Shortly thereafter, Esther is moved to a big Boston hospital. It is an unpleasant place, and Esther's roommate Mrs. Tomolillo dislikes Esther, who is strenuously uncooperative with the staff, kicking an attendant who delivers food and causing a nurse's thermometers to fall to the ground. Esther is transferred to another space for severe cases. Mrs. Greenwood agrees to try to move Esther to a better facility if Esther promises to behave.


In this chapter, Esther is ugly inside and out. Her nastiness is due to her illness, but her stubborn refusal to play along with the hospital routine makes it hard to feel much sympathy for her. She is off-puttingly impatient with her mother; it is natural that Mrs. Greenwood is upset, but Esther sees only weakness. Later, Esther is unpardonably rude to a black hospital orderly.

Sylvia Plath manages to make her readers feel as impatient and frustrated as the staff at the hospital must feel when they deal with Esther. In doing so, she shows impressive authorial courage. Because Plath is determined to portray Esther's illness as realistically as possible, she does not flinch from showing Esther at her worst.

The reappearance of Mrs. Tomolillo as Esther's hospital roommate recalls the earlier scene of Mrs. Tomolillo giving birth at Buddy's hospital. Just as Esther is repulsed by the birth of Mrs. Tomolillo's baby, Mrs. Tomolillo is repulsed by Esther's botched attempt at rebirth through suicide: "The woman stared at me. Then, hastily, she snatched up a movie magazine from her bed table and pretended to be reading."

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