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The Bell Jar | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar | Chapter 15 | Summary



Esther's college benefactor, Philomena Guinea, hears about Esther's suicide attempt and offers to pay for Esther's transfer to a private facility. Esther knows she should be grateful, but she is unable to feel anything, a circumstance she compares to being trapped under a bell jar.

Esther is surprised to find that her psychiatrist, Doctor Nolan, is a likable young woman, who promises that any electroconvulsive treatment administered at this hospital will be different than Esther's previous experience. Esther receives insulin therapy as part of her treatment.

Esther becomes acquainted with some of the other patients. Valerie has had a lobotomy, an operation where part of the brain is cut to treat some mental illnesses. Mrs. Norris, who does not speak, is moved from Caplan, the present facility, to Wymark, the facility for extreme cases. One day, Esther hears that an "old friend" has moved into the room next door to hers. It is Joan Giling, Esther's school friend.


A bell jar, shaped as an upturned bell, creates a vacuum effect that keeps anything in the interior sealed away from the exterior world. This static, or unchanging, environment is frequently used to preserve plants or to conduct experiments in physics, which, interestingly, might include electricity.

The bell jar functions as a metaphor for Esther's feelings of confinement and loss of control over her life: "I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air." As a resident of a mental health facility, she becomes the object of experimentation with insulin and with electricity. It is notable that electricity is used to execute the Rosenbergs and purify American democracy of Communism, and it is also used to cause a healing or a rebirth in Esther and other mentally ill patients by purifying their minds of depression and suicidal thoughts. It is also notable that the other patients with whom Esther interacts are all females who are being experimented on, perhaps, as in Esther's case, to rid the women of their resistance to patriarchy.

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