The Bell Jar | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar | Chapter 16 | Summary



Esther, who barely knows Joan, is amazed to hear that the other girl, miserable at work, flew to New York City and attempted suicide after reading about Esther's disappearance. Joan passes on the clippings she has collected about Esther; it is the first time Esther realizes that her story made the papers.

Since her arrival, Esther has been undergoing insulin therapy. One night, she has a reaction to the insulin and feels better for a short time. More helpful than the insulin is the fact that Doctor Nolan decides Esther should not have visitors for a while; visitors, especially her mother, have been irritating Esther for a long time. When Esther confesses that she hates her mother, Doctor Nolan seems pleased by her frankness.


Esther's relationship with Joan is one of many examples of reflection in the novel. As Esther's sense of self unravels, she is unable to recognize herself in mirrors and photographs. Remember that she drops the mirror in horror after her suicide attempt. Additionally, Esther finds images of herself in fictional adopted personas such as Elly Higginbottom and Ee Gee. Finally, she recognizes herself in other characters when she begins to view Joan as her twin.

Esther's relationship with her mother has been troubled for years, presumably because Mrs. Greenwood does not allow herself to view her daughter as an extension of her own thwarted desires as a woman. Mrs. Greenwood views Esther's conflicts as something foreign, which makes Esther feel alienated from the one woman who should serve as her guide into adulthood. When Doctor Nolan realizes that seeing her mother only harms Esther and ends the visits, she becomes a mother figure to Esther—one who is warmer and more accepting of Esther's conflicts than Esther's real mother. Though this may seem cruel to Mrs. Greenwood, it is a necessary step toward Esther's recovery. Only after her mother's visits have been banned does Esther really start to heal.

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