The Bell Jar

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The Bell Jar Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back at Lenny’s apartment, Doreen and Lenny dance and flirt amidst Lenny’s cowboy-style pine-paneling and stuffed animal decorations. Doreen addresses Esther as ‘Elly’ even when Lenny can’t hear them. Esther sits alone watching them and feels like “a hole in the ground.” When Doreen and Lenny’s kissing gets heated, she slips out and walks the several miles back to the Amazon.
Esther’s language continues to dematerialize her own body: she compares herself now to a hole, a physical absence. By calling her ‘Elly,’ Doreen contributes to the figurative disappearance of ‘Esther.’ Lenny and his cowboy-style apartment embody conventional social standards of masculinity.
Themes
Mind vs. Body Theme Icon
Women and Social Expectations Theme Icon
In the reflection of the metal elevator door at the hotel, Esther sees “a big, smudgy-eyed Chinese woman staring idiotically into my face. It was only me, of course.” From her room’s window, New York is silent and looks “flat as a poster,” unreal. Esther takes a long hot bath, as she always does when feeling sad, and “felt myself growing pure again.” She goes to bed “pure and sweet as a new baby.”
This passage introduces the symbol of the mirror. Esther’s inability to recognize her mirrored reflection is a theme throughout the novel and echoes her slippery grasp on her own identity as she is transformed by mental illness. Again, Esther equates physical purification with spiritual purity.
Themes
Mind vs. Body Theme Icon
Purity vs. Impurity Theme Icon
In the middle of the night, Esther is awoken by knocking and one voice calling “Elly,” one voice saying “Miss Greenwood, your friend wants you.” She opens her door on an extremely drunk and disheveled Doreen and a night maid, who walks off once Doreen falls into Esther’s arms. Esther feels disgusted by Doreen, desperate to be rid of her. When Doreen vomits and passes out on the carpet, Esther leaves her there and retreats into her own room. She decides that from now on, she “would watch [Doreen] and listen to what she said, but deep down…would be loyal to Betsy and her innocent friends. It was Betsy I resembled at heart.”
The scene presents an extreme contrast between Esther’s just-bathed, physical purity and Doreen’s grotesque, sexually debased intoxication. Although Esther has previously been attracted to Doreen’s sophistication and defiance, she returns to some of her old, conventional values by aligning herself with the wholesome rule-follower Betsy.
Themes
Purity vs. Impurity Theme Icon
Women and Social Expectations Theme Icon
Personal Ambition Theme Icon
In the morning, Esther opens the door to find Doreen gone and the hall carpet “clean and eternally verdant” but for a faint mark where Doreen’s vomit had been wiped up.
As Esther purged herself of thoughts of Doreen by purifying herself in the bath, so too has the carpet been cleansed of Doreen’s vomit stains. Yet a faint mark does remain.
Themes
Purity vs. Impurity Theme Icon
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