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The Bell Jar | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar | Chapter 5 | Summary



The day after the food poisoning, Esther wakes to the sound of a 7:00 a.m. telephone call. The caller is a simultaneous interpreter for the United Nations named Constantin. Mrs. Willard, the mother of Esther's semi-boyfriend Buddy, gave him Esther's number. Constantin and Esther agree to meet later that day.

The phone call finished, Esther lies in bed "feeling grim." She reads a short story about a fig tree in The Thirty Best Short Stories of the Year, which causes her to think about Buddy Willard. He is a handsome Yale medical student whom she has been seeing for two years on and off. At one time, Esther adored Buddy. Then she "discovered quite by accident what an awful hypocrite he was, and now he wanted me to marry him and I hated his guts." Esther compares the relationship to the story about a fig tree, but instead of a bird coming out of an egg, she says that the pair witness a baby being born.


The story of the Jewish man and the nun who meet under a fig tree is a retelling of the Garden of Eden story in the Bible. In both cases, the tree is the site of sexual knowledge: the hatching of the bird inspires the touching of hands and then the rejection of desire. Esther and Buddy share a religion, but they do not share the same vision of men's and women's social or sexual roles. This fundamental difference in world view becomes clear to Esther on the day the pair witness the birth of a baby rather than a bird, a scene revealed in Chapter 6. Later, in Chapter 7, the fig tree becomes a metaphor for Esther's indecision regarding potential traditional and nontraditional women's roles. She is unable to choose and is thus paralyzed.

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