The Bell Jar | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

In a flashback, Buddy Willard's father drives Esther to visit Buddy at the tuberculosis sanitarium in the Adirondacks. It is a depressing place, and Buddy has gotten fat. When Esther and Buddy are alone, he proudly shows her a terrible poem he has written. Then he asks whether she "would like to be Mrs. Buddy Willard." Esther tells him she is too neurotic to settle down.

Buddy takes Esther skiing, though neither of them has ever skied before. It does not occur to Esther to decline the offer. At the top of the mountain, she considers suicide: "The thought that I might kill myself formed in my mind coolly as a tree or a flower." She points her skis straight down and takes off, thinking, "This is what it is to be happy." At the bottom of the mountain, she falls and breaks her leg in two places.

Analysis

When Buddy's father tells Esther that no daughter could be nicer than she is, Esther bursts into tears. Esther's tears may stem from the absence of her own father, who died when she was young. In many ways, Esther's dysfunctional family drives her search for identity in the text. The missing father and the unsympathetic mother cause Esther to search for alternative parental figures who will serve as guides into adulthood. In this case, Esther's tears may also stem from the realization that accepting Mr. Willard as a father figure means accepting Buddy and, by association, a role as the new Mrs. Willard, a woman who advocates traditional roles for women.

Esther's refusal of Buddy's proposal marks the first time she pushes back against Buddy's vision of her: "You can't coddle these sick people," Esther tells herself. It is ironic that, in this scene, both Buddy and Esther are sick—he physically and she mentally. Yet Esther's reasons for refusing Buddy's proposal illustrate some of her clearest thinking in the novel.

Finally, it is significant that Esther considers suicide for the first time in the text, not as something scary or ugly, but as something natural, the natural progression of her growth as a woman: "a tree or a flower." It is also significant that as Esther flies freely down the mountain toward possible death, she feels "happy," something she has not felt since she was nine years old, her age at the time of her father's death.

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