The Bell Jar/Twenty

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Plot summary[edit | edit source]

Chapter twenty takes place in winter, a week before Esther would be released from the asylum. Before that happens, though, she has to pass an interview with the board of directors. She imagines what it will be like to explore the snow-covered landscapes of Massachusetts after her six-month “break”. She's also anxious to meet all the people that will definitely know about her time in the asylum.

She recalls her mother's words about how they'll forget it happened and start again, but she states that she remembers everything that had happened. She says that maybe in time she will forget, but those experiences are now a part of her. Esther is visited by Buddy Willard, who drove to the asylum in his mother's car. Esther waits for a spark of emotion, but the sight of Buddy evokes no feelings in her. They talk little as Esther helps him dig the car out of a snow drift, but later at tea Buddy asks Esther whether “there's something that drives women crazy”, obviously worried that he somehow caused Esther's and Joan's illness. Esther laughs at the idea and says that he didn't do it, mirroring the words of Doctor Nolan directed at Esther who wanted to know if she caused Joan's suicide. As they're saying goodbye, Buddy asks her, as if for revenge, “I wonder who you'll marry now”, to which she has no answer.

Esther calls Irwin to tell him that she has received a hospital bill for emergency attention after their night together. Guiltily, he promises to write a check to the hospital and asks when he will be able to see her again. She answers “Never” and hangs up.

Esther goes to Joan's funeral, where she feels as if she's burying something along with Joan's coffin. She listens to the beating of her heart, affirming that she's still alive.

As Esther is about to enter the interview, she is reassured by Doctor Nolan that it will be a short, simple matter and she will be able to leave. Despite her assurances, Esther is terrified. She feels uncertain about the future and thinks that somebody should invent a ritual for starting their life anew. As she's thinking, Doctor Nolan walks up to her and indicates for her to walk in. Esther walks into the room full of people, hestitating for a while on the treshold.

Example study questions[edit | edit source]

  • Do you think Esther has changed in some way during the course of the novel? Is the bell jar gone? Is she a different person?
  • Do you think the ending is optimistic or pessimistic? What do you expect to happen to Esther?