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THE BELL JAR - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
"Iím so glad theyíre going to die." Thus the chapter opens on Hildaís words about the Rosenberg executions, the anticipation of the events with which Esther opened her narrative. Hilda is wearing a bile green hat, a color that the fashion magazine is promoting for the fall. As she walks with Hilda, she notices Hilda continuously checking herself out in the mirrors they pass "as if to make sure, moment by moment, that she continued to exist." When Esther tries to make conversation by asking "Isnít it awful about the Rosenbergs" Hilda responds by exclaiming "Yes!" However, she then says how awful it is that people like the Rosenbergs should be alive. She yawns and then says sheís glad theyíll die.
Esther stands in front of a camera in Jay Ceeís office being urged to smile. She is the last of the twelve women to have her picture taken. Sheís been hiding in the bathroom because she feels like she is about to start crying and she canít figure out why. It is the last round of photographs before all the women go back home. They are being photographed with props to show what they would be. Betsy, for instance, held up an ear of corn to show she wanted to be a farmerís wife. When they asked Esther, she said she didnít know. Finally she said she wanted to be a poet. She stands in front of the camera holding a white paper rose and begins to cry. She feels great relief in the tears. After she finishes crying, Jay Cee comes back in with a pile of manuscripts. The manuscripts pile up every day at the magazine. She thinks of a manuscript with her own name on it. She had applied for a summer school course with a famous writer. She sent him a story so he could read it and see if she would do for the course. She hasnít yet heard from him, but she feels sure she will get a letter of acceptance when she gets home to her motherís house. She fantasizes about sending her manuscripts under a pseudonym to Jay Cee and then surprising her at lunch one day.
Doreen is trying to set her up on another blind date. She says the man is from Peru. Doreen wants her to go to a country club dance with a friend of Lennyís. It is the last night she will be in New York and she has not yet packed. In the last days of her New York stay, she has found it very difficult to do anything. When sheís tried to pack, sheís pulled out all the "grubby, expensive clothes" and spread them out. Then she just stares at them, unable to do anything with them. Doreen helps her by stuffing all the clothes under the bed.
At the door, Doreen hugs Lenny. Esther looks at the other man in the room and tries to stay detached, telling herself she is just an observer. She sees a tall man who has dark hair and has a very bright stickpin. She is fascinated by the stickpin. Someone tells Marco to give her the diamond. He does so. She puts it into her evening bag. Marco takes her arm and says he is escorting her tonight and hints that he will perform some service that will win him the diamond back. He squeezes her arm so hard that he leaves bruises all around it. Marco points out the bruises to her and tells her she should see that he is quite serious. She decides Marco is a misogynist. He pays total attention to her all night only because she "happened to be dealt to him, like a playing card in a pack of identical cards."
At the country club, the band starts up and Marco reaches for Estherís hand. She is drinking a daiquiri and enjoying it, so she doesnít want to dance. She also tells him she doesnít know how to dance. He tells her not to be stupid and pulls her to the dance floor by force. He tells her she doesnít have to dance because he will do all the dancing. He dances with her and she realizes what he said was true. She only needed to let herself be maneuvered around. She realizes why women haters make such fools of women. They act as if they were gods, totally full of power. During an interval in the music, Marco leads her outside into the garden. It is very dark outside. Marco smokes and she asks him who he is in love with. He says he loves his cousin, but that it is impossible to marry her because she is his first cousin and she is going to be a nun. She tells him he will love someone else someday and he knocks her down. When she tries to rise, he pushes her back down into the mud. He lands on top of her and she thinks, "Itís happening. If I just lie here and do nothing it will happen." Marco tears her dress off her and calls her a slut. She fights him off, bloodying his nose. She tells him she wants Doreen. He just keeps repeating that women are all sluts whether they say yes or no to sex. He wants his diamond back. She refuses to give it back. Itís in her purse in the bushes and she plans to retrieve it the next day. He threatens to break her neck if she doesnít tell him. She tells him itís in her bag somewhere in the muck and walks away. She cannot find Doreen. She asks one driver after another until one agrees to give her a lift back to Manhattan.
She is standing on the roof of the Amazon. She is in her bathrobe. She drags a folding chair to the parapet and begins to throw all her new clothes off the roof.
Her experience with Marco demonstrates for Esther the more brutal side of patriarchy. She imagines herself as a card. She says, she "happened to be dealt to him, like a playing card in a pack of identical cards." In this, Plath is getting at a central element of patriarchy. The womanís position in patriarchy is essentially an empty slot which can be filled by any woman. A good way to see this concept is to examine the way names are given. In a patrilineal naming system, a woman gets her fatherís name and then when she gets married, she changes her name and takes her husbandís name. She will be called something like Mrs. Harry Smith. If she divorces this man or dies, he can remarry and his new wife will have her identical name: Mrs. Harry Smith. For Marco, Esther has no identity of her own. She is valuable only insofar as she fills a slot for him.
Esther is nearly raped in this chapter. Itís telling that her first response is to lie passively and let it happen, thinking perhaps that she will get it over. Esther is unaware that she has been trained in such passivity, readied, as it were, for accepting rape as her initiation into sexual life. She is only spurred to action by Marcoís violence.
Why does Esther respond to the attempted rape by trying first to keep the diamond and second by throwing all her clothes away?