The Bell Jar | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar | Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

As Esther's magazine internship draws to an end, she becomes more and more emotional. Esther and Hilda discuss the impending death of the Rosenbergs. Hilda's response, "I'm so glad they're going to die," echoes with Esther. Then Esther bursts into tears while having her photograph taken for the magazine. She fantasizes about sending Jay Cee some anonymous manuscripts from the summer writing course she will take when she gets home.

The night before Esther is due to return home, she abandons the task of packing and accompanies Doreen to a dance at a country club, where she meets a Peruvian man named Marco. Marco wears a diamond stickpin in his tie. When he hands it to Esther, she slips it into her evening bag. Marco ominously says he will perform "some small service" to earn it back.

Esther gets very drunk at the dance. Marco takes her outside and tries to rape her, but she fights him off, giving him a bloody nose. Marco smears his blood onto each of Esther's cheeks. She leaves him scrabbling in the dark, trying to find her evening bag with his diamond pin, and gets a ride back to the city. In her hotel room, she decides not to pack; instead, she balls up her clothes and throws them off the top of the hotel sunroof.

Analysis

When Esther looks in the compact mirror, her mascara running after crying in response to having her photograph—a record of her identity—taken, her face seems to be "peering from the grating of a prison cell after a prolonged beating." Prison images are threaded throughout this chapter, which begins with the news that the Rosenbergs are about to be executed.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed under the Espionage Act in 1953 after being convicted of being Soviet spies. Although current research shows the Rosenbergs were, in fact, guilty, at the time, many viewed them as victims of Cold War paranoia and McCarthyism. In any event, they were outsiders, which helps to explain Esther's fascination with them.

Being of German ancestry causes Esther to feel isolated from mainstream America as Germans were viewed with suspicion after both World Wars. In addition, Esther is an outsider within the culture of women in that she rejects traditional roles but is unable to successfully establish a new path for herself. The execution of the Rosenbergs suggests that the fate of the outsider is death, an idea Esther has begun to toy with.

Marco is clearly someone to avoid, but Esther is his prisoner for the evening. There is no escape—the country club is miles away from Manhattan—and Doreen has disappeared. Besides, there is the diamond stickpin, which Marco gives Esther in a grotesque parody of a marriage proposal. Readers know that Esther believes women become powerless after marriage, and in this chapter, she seems powerless to do anything but follow Marco. She holds onto that diamond for as long as she can. The streaks of Marco's blood on Esther's cheeks after the altercation parallel the streaks of mascara that begin the chapter, emphasizing Esther's status as a prisoner of gender and society.

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