The Bell Jar

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

The Bell Jar Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Joan explains how reading about Esther’s presumed suicide in the papers inspired Joan to kill herself too. She’d been having a wretched summer trying to secretary while plagued by bunions, and the doctors she’d seen had been largely unsympathetic, suggesting she treat her suicidal feelings with group therapy. Joan was admitted to the hospital after she’d gone to New York to try to kill herself and failed in the attempt. She gives Esther the newspaper clippings about her disappearance and eventual discovery. Esther at first doesn’t recognize two of the smudgy printed photographs of herself. The last photograph is of her when she was found in the basement, and depicts “a long, limp blanket roll with a featureless cabbage head” being lifted into the back of an ambulance.
By emulating her suicide, Joan holds an eerie mirror up to Esther’s own identity and behavior. Esther’s inability to recognize her own photographs in the paper stands in stark contrast to earlier scenes where she identified with newspaper photos of strangers. Like Esther’s experience with Dr. Gordon, Joan, too, has suffered some ineffective psychiatrists.
Themes
Mind vs. Body Theme Icon
Esther’s falls asleep after dinner and wakes up to a loud voice repeatedly shouting “Mrs. Banister!” (Mrs. Bannister is the night nurse.) Esther realizes she is the one shouting and beating her bedpost. Mrs. Bannister runs over and, smiling, tells Esther she’s “had a reaction.” Esther says she feels “funny,” and Mrs. Bannister assures her she’ll “be better now.”
Esther’s long-awaited reaction to the insulin treatments manifests in extreme alienation between mind and body—she does not even recognize her own voice shouting.
Themes
Mind vs. Body Theme Icon
Medicine Theme Icon
During her next visit to Dr. Nolan’s office, Dr. Nolan brings up the reaction. Esther says she felt better at first after it but doesn’t anymore. Esther still lives in fear that any day, Dr. Nolan might prescribe shock treatments.
Even after the insulin treatment has finally taken effect, its effects seem negligible.
Themes
Medicine Theme Icon
Dr. Nolan tells Esther she has good news: Esther won’t be receiving any more visitors. Esther is surprised and delighted. She’s thinks about how she’s suffered an endless stream of visitors since arriving, everyone from her former employer to her former English teacher to Philomena Guinea to a Unitarian minister to her mother. Esther has despised these visits, “feeling the visitors measuring my fat and stringy hair against what I had been and what they wanted me to be.”
From the perspective of Esther’s visitors, Esther’s failures as a person are manifest in her physical appearance. They want her to be restored to the old Esther, whose well-kempt appearance reflected her academic excellence and social propriety.
Themes
Mind vs. Body Theme Icon
Personal Ambition Theme Icon
Get the entire The Bell Jar LitChart as a printable PDF.
The bell jar.pdf.medium
Esther thinks about how most of the visitors have been nervous around her and have tried to dispense advice. Her aggrieved mother keeps asking Esther “to tell her what she had done wrong” and says the doctors keep asking her about Esther’s toilet training (which had been painless). That afternoon, her mother had brought her roses for her birthday. Esther had dumped the roses in the trashcan. Esther tells Dr. Nolan that she hates her mother. Dr. Nolan smiles “as if something had pleased her very, very much, and [says], ‘I suppose you do.’”
The doctors’ inquiries about Esther’s toilet training are evidence of contemporary psychiatric practice’s commitment to the theories of Sigmund Freud, who thought that adult mental health could be traced back to childhood development and experiences.
Themes
Medicine Theme Icon