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The Bell Jar | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar | Chapter 6 | Summary



In a flashback, Esther recalls that she had always wanted Buddy to show her "some really interesting hospital sights." He more than granted her wish. First, he showed her the cadavers he and his classmates were dissecting. Next came a hall lined with jars of unborn fetuses, and after that Buddy took Esther to a lecture on sickle-cell anemia.

After lunch came the big show: a woman giving birth. Esther was revolted by what she witnessed. Later, Esther and Buddy hung out in his room. He disrobed and asked her to look at him. When he asked her to do the same, she refused. Suddenly, Esther asked Buddy whether he had ever had an affair and was shocked when he admitted to sleeping with a waitress for a summer in Cape Cod: "What I couldn't stand was Buddy's pretending I was so sexy and he was so pure."

She concluded that Buddy was a hypocrite and decided to break up with him, but before she got the chance, Buddy phoned the next weekend to tell her he had tuberculosis and was being sent to a sanatorium. Esther was delighted at the news. Now she would not have to see him for a good long time.


Esther mentions her hair twice in this chapter. The first reference comes when she describes what she has always imagined it would be like to give birth. She would be "smiling and radiant, with my hair down to my waist," reaching out eagerly "for my first little squirmy child" instead of lying flat and unresponsive like the new mother she observes. Loose or flowing hair is often suggestive of freedom. In this romanticized vision of childbirth, Esther imagines a kind of freedom in fulfilling the sexual cycle.

However, watching the birth horrifies Esther and watching Buddy undress, the beginning of the sexual cycle, revolts her: "I think you ought to get used to me like this," Buddy tells her. "Now let me see you." This supremely unromantic instruction does not appeal to Esther. Instead, she waits for Buddy to get dressed, then she asks for a comb: "I began to comb my hair down over my face so Buddy couldn't see it."

A woman's hair is also viewed as a means of sexual seduction. Yet, after the supremely uncomfortable experience of watching Buddy undress, Esther is not interested in seducing him. She combs her hair down over her face, her hair becoming a barrier between Buddy and herself, a sign that the relationship is ending—even before Esther asks the fatal question, "Have you ever had an affair with anyone, Buddy?"

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