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The Bell Jar | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar | Chapter 18 | Summary



When Esther awakes from her electroconvulsive treatment, the bell jar has not disappeared, but it is now suspended high enough that Esther feels she is "open to the circulating air." Dr. Nolan promises that her future treatments will "always be like that."

Joan Giling appears to regress as Esther progresses. She hangs around Esther as if trying to soak up her recovery, but Esther tells Joan that she is disgusting.

Both women receive letters from Buddy, which causes Joan to sing the praises of Mrs. Willard. Esther recalls witnessing Joan and another patient, Dee Dee, in bed together.

When Esther tells Doctor Nolan that the threat of getting pregnant feels like a stick hanging over her head to keep her in line, the doctor writes her a prescription for birth control. Birth control is illegal in Massachusetts, but Esther's appointment to be fitted for a diaphragm goes smoothly.


In some ways, Esther begins to view Joan as the dark side of herself: "In spite of the creepy feeling ... Joan fascinated me ... her thoughts and feelings seemed a wry, black image of my own." According to the psychological theory of projection, people who wish to deny their own feelings may project those feelings onto others. There is a sense that Esther projects or displaces her feelings of strangeness and repulsiveness onto Joan as Esther heals. It is easier to think someone else is like a particularly warty toad than to see one's own warts. This projection also functions as a form of denial of Esther's own homosexual tendencies.

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