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The Bell Jar | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar | Chapter 2 | Summary



Esther hangs around Lenny's very masculine apartment until it becomes clear that she is in the way of a relationship between Lenny and Doreen. Then she lets herself out of the apartment and walks drunkenly back to the hotel. Back in her room, she is appalled at how "wrinkled and used up" she looks. The silence depresses her. She remembers her quasi-boyfriend Buddy Willard, who is at a tuberculosis sanitarium. Overwhelmed by negative feelings, Esther takes a hot bath. She emerges feeling purified and reborn.

Esther is wakened by Doreen, who is dead drunk and vomiting outside her room. When Doreen passes out, Esther lowers her to the floor and goes back to bed. In the morning, the hall carpet has been cleaned and Doreen is nowhere in sight.


As Esther struggles to define a new feminine identity, the themes of transformation and rebirth emerge:

  • Esther decides to order a vodka drink because she likens the clear liquid to water that links in her mind with notions of purity.
  • She follows Doreen to Lenny's apartment because "I wanted to see as much as I could"—she trains herself "to look devout and impassive" at things that intrigue her, in this case, sexual freedom that is restricted for women by mainstream conventions. Ultimately, the display causes Esther to lose her conventional sense of self: "I felt myself shrinking ... I felt like a hole in the ground."
  • When Esther flees the scene and returns to her cigarette-smoke-filled hotel room, she wonders whether the smoke has appeared "as a sort of judgment" against her for her curiosity regarding sexual freedom.
  • She takes a hot bath and feels herself "growing pure again"—as if, even in the role of observer, the activities of the evening have physically tainted her.
  • When she wakes up the next morning, she expects to see Doreen lying in the hall "like an ugly, concrete testimony to my own dirty nature." Instead, she finds the illusion of perfection restored: the hallway carpet of the Amazon women's hotel is "clean and eternally verdant."

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