Study Guide

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar Summary

The Bell Jar opens in the summer of 1953. Esther Greenwood is a bright nineteen-year-old working as an editorial intern at a popular women's magazine in New York City. Despite her academic promise and ambition, Esther feels isolated from society and discouraged about her future. These early symptoms of depression are aggravated by the pressure she feels to conform to social expectations of what a young woman should be – a virgin until marriage, and after marriage, a wife and a mother. Chided by her boss for not having a clear career focus, Esther goes on a series of dates, the last of which ends with her date attempting to assault her. Esther escapes, and returns home the next morning to her mother's house in the suburbs outside Boston.

As the events of the summer unfold, Esther frequently flashes back to her problematic relationship with her on-and-off boyfriend Buddy Willard, a medical student. Through these flashbacks, we learn that while Esther idolized Buddy at first, she became disillusioned when he revealed that he had a sexual affair. Later, Esther visited Buddy while he was confined to a sanitarium for tuberculosis. After rejecting his proposal of marriage, Esther followed Buddy to the ski slopes, where she had an accident and broke her leg.

Back with her mother, Esther finds out that she did not get accepted into a summer creative writing program, after which she quickly spirals down into a suicidal depression. Esther consults Dr. Gordon, but he botches her electroshock therapy, after which Esther's behavior grows increasingly erratic. Finally, Esther decides to end her life. She hides away in a crawlspace under her home and swallows a bottle of sleeping pills. Fortunately, she is rescued a few days later. After staying at a couple of hospitals, Esther is taken to a private psychiatric institution, where she meets Dr. Nolan, a compassionate female doctor. While there, Esther undergoes a series of successful electroshock and insulin therapy sessions. At the institution, she encounters Joan, a high school friend who also dated Buddy.

However, Esther's life is again threatened when, after a sexual encounter with a professor she meets in Cambridge during a visit out of the institution, she hemorrhages. Joan, who is now living in Cambridge, helps Esther to the emergency room, and Esther returns to the institution the next day. Joan also returns to stay at the institution, and commits suicide near the institution's grounds soon after. Esther's condition, on the other hand, improves. The novel ends in the winter of 1954 as Esther enters her exit interview, which will determine if she's ready to leave the institution.

  • Chapter 1

    • The novel opens in New York City, in the same summer that the infamous Rosenbergs were executed (that's 1953, for those of you a little fuzzy on your American history).
    • The unnamed narrator is one of twelve college students who has won an all-expenses-paid internship at a fashion magazine. The magazine job comes with a lot of perks like free makeup and concert tickets, but the narrator doesn't feel particularly lucky or successful. Instead, she can't help obsessing over the Rosenbergs and the gruesome details of their execution.
    • The narrator stays at the Amazon, a residence for young, professional women, with the other interns.
    • She has two friends in particular who also intern at the magazine: Doreen and Betsy. Doreen is a witty and sophisticated southerner; Betsy is a sweet, wholesome girl from Kansas with a fondness for stories about corn.
    • Doreen and Betsy don't get along, so when they leave for a party, the narrator hops in a cab with Doreen.
    • At a traffic light, a man dressed in Western garb (think Owen Wilson in The Royal Tanenbaums) comes up to their cab and invites them out for a drink. They accept, and they follow the man and his much shorter friend into a bar.
    • Doreen is indifferent at first, but quickly warms to the man when he tells them that he's Lenny Shepard, a famous DJ.
    • As Lenny puts the moves on Doreen, his friend, Franky, tries to get to know the narrator. She tells him (falsely) that her name is Elly Higginbottom, from Chicago.
    • Franky gets up to go, and asks Lenny for the money he owes him. Lenny pays him, and tells him to beat it.
    • Lenny then invites Doreen and the narrator, who is now called Elly, over to his place. They accept.
  • Chapter 2

    • Lenny's apartment looks like a saloon. Bear rugs cover the floor, everything's paneled in pine, including a horseshoe-shaped bar, and animal heads, horns, and antlers adorn the walls.
    • Lenny puts on some mood music and starts to dance with Doreen as the narrator watches.
    • The narrator is about to fall asleep on one of the bear rugs when all of a sudden, she hears Lenny yell. Doreen has bitten his ear.
    • Lenny throws Doreen over his shoulder, and the narrator notices that Doreen's breasts have fallen out of her dress. Lenny and Doreen laugh as they struggle.
    • The narrator decides that it would be a good time to leave and sneaks out of the apartment.
    • The narrator walks back to the Amazon. Everyone else is still at the party. She takes a long bath, and goes to sleep.
    • She's awakened by knocking at her door. The attendant has brought up Doreen, who is drunk and unintelligible.
    • Doreen continues to call the narrator by her fake name, "Elly," though the attendant uses the narrator's real name, "Miss Greenwood."
    • Annoyed, the narrator leaves Doreen in a pool of her own vomit out in the hallway, and goes back to her room to sleep.
    • When she wakes up the next day, Doreen is gone, and only a faint stain remains on the carpet.
  • Chapter 3

    • The narrator and the other interns arrive at the offices of Ladies' Day magazine, where the test kitchens have prepared a special banquet for them. Doreen is absent; she's spending most of her time with Lenny.
    • The narrator is psyched about the free food. She's not used to eating at fine restaurants. The best food she's eaten is at the country club where her grandfather is the head waiter.
    • She takes a look over the banquet table, planning her angle of attack. She spreads caviar over some thin slices of chicken, folds the chicken slices, and gobbles them up. Next, she attacks the avocado.
    • Stuffed, she asks Betsy how the fur show that morning was. Betsy raves and says that they all learned how to make neckerchiefs out of mink tails and a gold chain. Betsy points out Hilda, a fashion intern, who is indeed wearing a mink neckerchief.
    • Betsy asks the narrator why she didn't attend the fur show. The narrator is quite glum.
    • The narrator had planned on ditching the fur show and the banquet, and spending the entire day on the lawn in Central Park. Instead, she got called into her boss's office.
    • (We finally find out her name is Esther, by the way.)
    • Esther's boss, an intelligent but unattractive older woman named Jay Cee, asked her what she planned on doing as a career. The narrator had no answer. Her boss berated her at first for not being motivated enough, but was mollified when the narrator said she would squeeze in some more foreign languages in college.
    • Esther's conversation with Jay Cee reminds her of how she weaseled her way out of the chemistry requirement in college. Since she had already received an A in physics, she convinced her dean that she needed to take a course on Shakespeare instead. But just to show that she wasn't weaseling out of chemistry because she hated it – which she did – she offered to attend every single class. The faculty was impressed with her "maturity." (We're just impressed by their gullibility.)
  • Chapter 4

    • At the banquet, Esther dips her fingers in a finger bowl and remembers the first time she saw a finger bowl. It was at the house of Philomena Guinea, the woman funding her college scholarship. Instead of washing her fingers, Esther had slurped down the water in the bowl.
    • At the end of the banquet, Esther goes with Betsy and the other interns to a movie. But in the middle of the movie, Esther starts to feel horribly sick. So does Betsy.
    • They creep out of the theater and climb into a taxi, where both of them take turns discreetly puking on the cab's floor.
    • They arrive at the hotel, where they both rush into separate bathrooms and vomit some more. Esther passes out in the bathroom.
    • When Esther comes to, a doctor and a nurse are attending her. All the interns are as sick as she is. The nurse helps her back into her room, where Esther passes out again.
    • When Esther wakes up, Doreen is on hand with a cup of soup. Doreen tells Esther that the Ladies' Day banquet had served up some bad crab meat. Ugh. Doreen is fine, of course, because she ditched the banquet to spend the day with Lenny.
    • As a condolence, Ladies' Day sent all the interns copies of The Thirty Best Short Stories of the Year.
  • Chapter 5

    • At 7am the next day, Esther is woken up by a phone call from a man named Constantin. She can't place him at first, but realizes that he must be the simultaneous interpreter that Mrs. Willard, the mother of her boyfriend, Buddy Willard, had asked her to befriend.
    • Esther agrees to go with Constantin on a tour of the UN, where he works.
    • Esther then flips through The Thirty Best Short Stories. She finds a story about a fig tree that she especially likes. In the story, a nun and a Jewish man keep meeting at a fig tree to pick figs. One day, they see a nest, where a bird is hatching from an egg. Their hands touch. The next day, a different, mean nun comes out and the Jewish man is disappointed.
    • Esther thinks that her relationship with Buddy Willard is a lot like the fig tree. Instead of a bird coming out of an egg, they had witnessed a baby coming out of a woman, and then some catastrophe happened before they went their separate ways.
    • Esther then thinks back over her relationship with Buddy Willard. At first, he dismissed poetry, but lately he's been sending her letters from a sanatorium (a kind of rehab center for people with tuberculosis) where he seems to be changing his mind.
    • Even though their mothers are college friends, Esther didn't know Buddy very well growing up, but admired him from a distance. At college, Buddy surprised her one day and dropped off a letter inviting her to the Yale Junior Prom.
    • On the night after the prom, they kissed behind the chemistry lab at Yale. Esther thought the kiss was unimpressive, but Buddy was bowled over. He told her that he thought she must have dated a lot of guys – which she had, but they were all unsuccessful blind dates. After that incident, Esther had always thought of herself as being more experienced than Buddy.
    • But she discovered that Buddy was a hypocrite on the day they saw a baby being born.
  • Chapter 6

    • Esther continues to reminisce about her relationship with Buddy.
    • After graduating from Yale, Buddy went to medical school. When Esther went to visit, she asked Buddy to show her some "really interesting hospital sights" (6.1). After seeing some cadavers and babies in pickle jars, they went to see a woman giving birth.
    • Afterwards, Esther and Buddy hung out in his room. Buddy asked her if she'd ever seen a man naked before, and Esther said she hadn't.
    • Buddy asked her if she would like to see him naked, and Esther consented.
    • Buddy took off all of his clothes, including his nylon fishnet underwear (!!!), which apparently was some radical innovation of the time.
    • Esther was depressed and reminded of a turkey neck and turkey gizzards. Ouch.
    • Buddy asked her if she would let him see her naked, but she said no.
    • Then Esther asked Buddy whether he ever had an affair. He admitted sleeping with a waitress all summer when he worked at a restaurant in Cape Cod.
    • This surprised Esther because she had always thought of Buddy as morally pure, and he had always given her the impression that she was more experienced than he was. From that point on, Esther thought of Buddy as a hypocrite.
    • The next weekend, Esther got a call from Buddy. He had TB (tuberculosis) and had to be sent to a sanatorium.
  • Chapter 7

    • Esther meets up with Constantin for a tour of the UN. Esther is depressed by the sight of the interpreters at their work because there's nothing that she can do as well.
    • They then go out to a Greek restaurant, where Esther gets drunk on Greek wine. She decides that she wants Constantin to seduce her.
    • After Buddy's confession about sleeping with a waitress, Esther had decided to lose her virginity.
    • She remembers a boy named Eric who she thought might do. Eric had told her about how he had lost his virginity in a whorehouse, and how he felt sex was dirty and would never do it with anyone he loved. Once he wrote her a letter about how he might love her; she knew then that Eric would not be interested in having sex with her.
    • Back to Constantin. After they finish dinner, Constantin invites her back to his place to listen to balalaika music. Esther agrees.
    • Esther thinks of an article her mother sent her about how women should stay pure for their men. Esther thinks the article is hogwash because the article ignores how women actually feel.
    • At Constantin's place, they talk. Esther grows very tired, and decides to sleep on Constantin's bed. Constantin lies next to her. They both fall asleep.
    • When Esther wakes up, they are both still fully clothed. Esther tries to imagine what it would be like to be Constantin's wife. Given the other wives she knows – her mother, Mrs. Willard – it would mean the end of romance and a long life of housekeeping.
    • Constantin wakes up and drives her back to the hotel. As she lies in bed, a pain in her left shin reminds her of the time she broke her leg.
  • Chapter 8

    • Flashback to Christmas. Mr. Willard drops Esther off at the sanatorium to visit Buddy.
    • Buddy shows Esther his room, and then asks her if she would "like to be Mrs. Buddy Willard" (8.63). Esther rejects his proposal because she doesn't want to get married. Ever.
    • But Buddy is not discouraged.
    • Buddy then decides to teach Esther to ski, although he doesn't know how to ski himself. After a few practice runs, Esther goes to the top of a slope. Buddy encourages her to ski down.
    • Esther looks down, and thinks that she might kill herself.
    • She shoots straight down the slope, thinking, "This is what it is to be happy" (8.122).
    • The next thing she knows, she's coming to and Buddy's taking her shoes and socks off. She's broken her leg in two places.
  • Chapter 9

    • The novel shifts back to the present, where Esther is hanging out with fellow intern Hilda. They meet up at the hotel cafeteria and walk over to the magazine conference room.
    • Esther asks Hilda how she feels about the Rosenbergs. Hilda replies that she's glad they're going to die.
    • In Jay Cee's office, a photographer tries to take a picture of Esther. Jay Cee gives her a rose to symbolize Esther's being inspired to write poetry. But instead of a smile, Esther bursts into tears. When she looks up, Jay Cee and the photographer have disappeared.
    • Esther tries to put some makeup on her face. Jay Cee enters and offers her some manuscripts to read.
    • Esther fantasizes about getting into a summer school writing course with a famous writer. She imagines sending Jay Cee some stories from the course anonymously.
    • Later, Esther tries to pack; she's leaving for home the next morning.
    • Doreen invites Esther out to a country club dance with Lenny and one of Lenny's acquaintances.
    • When they arrive at the dance, Esther notices a man with a diamond tie-pin. This is her date for the night – Marco the "woman-hater" (9.83). He offers her the tie-pin as a gift, but then bruises her arm as he escorts her away.
    • After being forced to dance the tango, Esther follows Marco out onto the country club grounds where Marco shoves her to the ground. Esther fights back. Marco gets a bloody nose, and smears a stripe of his own blood on each of her cheeks. Ew.
    • But he's not letting her go until she gives him his diamond back. She tells him it's in her purse, somewhere on the ground, and escapes.
    • She hitches a ride back to Manhattan with one of the guests.
    • On the rooftop of the hotel, Esther throws away her clothes, one by one.
  • Chapter 10

    • On the train, Esther is wearing a green skirt and a flutter-sleeve blouse that she had to trade Betsy for because she threw all her clothes off the hotel roof.
    • Her mother picks her up at the Route 128 stop outside Boston, and promptly informs her that she has not made it into the writing course.
    • Esther wakes up the next morning to the sound of her neighbor, Dodo Conway, pushing a baby carriage up and down the street in front of her house.
    • Esther goes downstairs to answer a phone call. It's Jody, a friend from college, asking Esther if Esther made it into the course. Esther says no, she'll be staying in the suburbs.
    • Esther then checks her mail. A letter from the Harvard summer school offers her registration in another summer school course, but she calls the school up to let them know she's not interested.
    • There's also a letter from Buddy, saying that he's fallen for a nurse who also has tuberculosis, but if Esther follows his mother up to visit him in July, he might change his mind. Esther writes to him that she's decided to marry a simultaneous interpreter.
    • Esther decides she'll write a novel. She starts to type up a story about a woman like herself, sitting at home…trying to write a novel.
    • Esther abandons her novel.
    • Her mother offers to teach her shorthand, just as she does at the city college. But after a few minutes, Esther says she has a headache and goes to bed.
    • Esther then decides that she could get a head start on her senior thesis, which is on James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. But the first line is so complicated that it discourages her.
    • Some weeks later, Esther visits the family doctor for sleeping pills. The doctor recommends that Esther see a psychiatrist, Doctor Gordon.
  • Chapter 11

    • Esther arrives at Doctor Gordon's office. She hasn't showered in three weeks, and she hasn't slept for a week.
    • Dr. Gordon asks Esther what she thinks is wrong. Esther, who instantly dislikes Dr. Gordon, tells him how she hasn't slept for a week and hasn't been able to read or write.
    • Esther doesn't tell him about her handwriting problem. Earlier that morning, she had tried to write a letter to Doreen but for some reason, her handwriting had come out distorted and childlike.
    • Dr. Gordon asks Esther what college she attends. Esther replies, and Dr. Gordon tells her he used to be the college physician there before the war.
    • And that's the end of their first session.
    • Unsurprisingly, Esther doesn't feel any better.
    • Esther goes out to the Boston Common, where she's picked up by a Navy sailor. She tells him her name is Elly Higginbottom, from Chicago.
    • As they walk around the Common, Esther thinks she sees Mrs. Willard and pushes the sailor away. But it's only a woman who looks like Mrs. Willard.
    • Esther lies to the sailor and says that she thought the woman was a woman from the orphanage where she grew up. Esther cries on the sailor's shoulder.
    • Esther is back at Dr. Gordon's office. This time she throws the pieces of the letter she had tried to write to Doreen on his desk. He asks to speak to her mother while Esther waits outside in the car.
    • When Esther's mother comes out, Esther asks her what Dr. Gordon said. Her mother tells her that Dr. Gordon wants her to get electroshock therapy at a private hospital in Walton.
    • Later, Esther sits at the Public Garden, reading about an attempted suicide in a scandal sheet.
    • She's supposed to go to Dr. Gordon's hospital the next morning. She contemplates running away to Chicago, but instead takes the bus home.
  • Chapter 12

    • Esther and her mother arrive at Dr. Gordon's hospital. Esther notices that all the patients seem numb.
    • Dr. Gordon escorts Esther to a room. On the way they pass by a nurse restraining a woman who keeps shouting that she's going to jump out the window.
    • The same nurse joins Esther and Dr, Gordon in their room. Dr. Gordon and the nurse attach some wires to Esther's head.
    • Esther feels the electric current moving through her. It's horrifying.
    • Afterwards, she's reminded of the time she was electrocuted when she attempted to move her father's lamp. Dr. Gordon comes in and asks her what college she goes to – again.
    • Esther's mother picks her up. Dr. Gordon tells her Esther will need more treatments. Esther refuses, but her mother views her refusal as a sign that Esther feels much better.
    • Later one morning, thinking of all the people who've said she wouldn't amount to anything, Esther slashes her leg with a razor blade, just to see if she can manage suicide. But then she decides that she won't bleed enough before her mother gets home, so she bandages herself up and takes the bus into Boston.
    • In Boston, she catches a bus to the Deer Island prison, which is in her old hometown. There, she hangs out on the beach, thinking about drowning herself in the ocean.
    • She chats with the Deer Island guard and some beach-goers.
    • Finally, at dusk, she dips a foot in the water, but the water's too cold and she can't go through with her suicide.
  • Chapter 13

    • Esther is at the beach, where Jody has invited her out on a double date. Esther and Cal, her date, discuss a play where the main character finds out that he has inherited a brain disease because his father had a sexually transmitted disease, and his mother contemplates euthanizing him.
    • Esther then invites Cal out for a swim. Cal can't swim as far as she can, but she continues to swim on without him.
    • That morning, Esther had tried to kill herself by hanging, but she obviously wasn't successful.
    • As she swims, she attempts to drown herself, but again, she's unsuccessful. She swims back to shore.
    • Later, she goes to volunteer at a hospital. She's sent to the maternity ward to distribute the patients' flowers, but she messes up the flowers. The patients complain, and she runs away.
    • Later, she seeks out her father's grave. It's a rainy day, and she's wearing a black coat she bought with the last of her money. She realizes she never cried over her father's death, and cries her heart out over his gravestone.
    • She decides to attempt suicide again. When her mother leaves for work that morning, she steals her mother's sleeping pills. She pushes her way into a crawl space in the basement, takes the pills, and loses consciousness.
  • Chapter 14

    • Esther is dimly aware that she's being pulled out of the ground. The next thing she knows, she's in a room filled with people. She can't see.
    • She's in a hospital room. Her eye has been injured, and it's bandaged.
    • Her mother and brother come to visit her. When they ask her how she feels, she says she feels the same.
    • An old acquaintance from her church, George Bakewell, visits her. He's now a doctor at the hospital she's staying at. Esther tells him to leave her alone.
    • Esther asks a nurse to see a mirror. The nurse refuses at first, then relents. Esther is amused by what she sees in the mirror, but when she cracks a smile, she drops the mirror, irritating the nurses.
    • Esther is transferred to a city hospital, where she's placed in the psychiatric ward. Her roommate in the ward, Mrs. Tomolillo, takes an instant dislike to her.
    • One of the attendants comes in to serve food. Esther kicks him.
    • A nurse comes in to take Esther's temperature. Irritated, Esther kicks the nurse's thermometers to the floor. Esther is transferred out of the ward to a separate room for more severe cases.
  • Chapter 15

    • Philomena Guinea, the famous novelist who sponsored Esther's college scholarship, takes an interest in Esther's case and funds Esther's treatment at a private hospital.
    • At the hospital, Esther briefly meets Dr. Nolan, her new, female doctor, and then is shepherded to her room, where she meets the rest of the staff. After they leave, she wanders around the facility and meets Valerie, a fellow patient, in one of the common rooms.
    • Later, Dr. Nolan meets with Esther and asks her what she thought of Dr. Gordon. When Esther describes her experience with electroshock therapy, Dr. Nolan tells her that the therapy was done wrong, and that if Esther gets electroshock therapy at the institution, Dr. Nolan would be there to tell her about it.
    • Later, Esther walks into a room and meets Miss Norris. Not really, though, because Miss Norris just ignores Esther.
    • Then, Esther receives an insulin injection as part of her treatment.
    • Later, Valerie reveals to Esther that she's had a lobotomy. Esther is impressed with Valerie's calm demeanor.
    • A nurse helps Esther move to a different room. Esther notices that Miss Norris is also being moved, and she's told that Miss Norris is being transferred from Caplan, their present residence, to Wymark, which is a residence for more severe psychiatric cases.
    • The nurse tells Esther that someone she knows has moved into Caplan. Esther goes over to see who it is. It's Joan, a girl from her high school and a former girlfriend of Buddy Willard.
  • Chapter 16

    • Joan proceeds to tell Esther about how she ended up at Caplan. Joan was miserable at her job, and then read the newspaper coverage of Esther's disappearance. Joan shows Esther the clippings.
    • Inspired, Joan went to stay with a friend in New York City, and attempted to kill herself by punching her fists through her friend's apartment window.
    • Later, Esther comes out of a deep sleep yelling for the nurse. The nurse explains that Esther's had a "reaction" to the insulin therapy.
    • A while later, Esther talks with Dr. Nolan. Esther had felt better after the "reaction," but now feels the same.
    • Dr. Nolan then tells Esther she won't be having any visitors.
    • Esther then recalls that earlier that afternoon, her mother had come to visit, offering her roses for her birthday. Esther had stuffed the roses in a wastebasket, to her mother's dismay.
    • Esther tells Dr. Nolan that she hates her mother. Dr. Nolan seems pleased by this revelation.
  • Chapter 17

    • Esther is pleased to find that she's moving to a new residence, Belsize, for patients who are almost ready to be released. Joan has already preceded her there.
    • It is further reassuring because at Belsize, patients don't get electroshock therapy, while at Caplan patients do. You can tell which patients are scheduled for shock therapy because they don't get their breakfasts.
    • At Belsize, Esther hangs out in the lounge as the other patients play cards or play music. Joan points out to everyone a magazine photograph of Esther, from her summer internship. Esther denies that it's her.
    • The next morning, Esther realizes that she hasn't received her breakfast. Uh oh...that can only mean electroshock therapy. Esther feels betrayed by Dr. Nolan until Dr. Nolan personally arrives to escort her to therapy.
    • Unlike her experience at Dr. Gordon's hospital, both Dr. Nolan and the nurse are reassuring presences during the session. Instead of being conscious as they send electricity through her, Esther quickly blacks out.
  • Chapter 18

    • Esther wakes up, feeling as though "[the] bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head" (18.5).
    • Later, Joan and Esther discover that they have both received letters from Buddy. Joan raves about Mrs. Willard, which Esther finds strange.
    • During this conversation, Esther thinks back to earlier in the day when she had gone to the room of another patient, DeeDee, looking for some piano music. When she opened the door, she had discovered DeeDee and Joan in bed together.
    • When Joan tells Esther that she likes DeeDee, Esther tells Joan that Joan disgusts her.
    • Later, Esther arrives at a doctor's office to get a prescription for a diaphragm filled.
  • Chapter 19

    • Joan announces to Esther that she's decided to become a psychiatrist. And that she gets to live outside the asylum now – with a nurse in Cambridge.
    • The narrative shifts abruptly to Esther telling Irwin that "it hurts" (19.18).
    • Esther had met Irwin on the Widener Library steps at Harvard. After some drinks and dinner, Esther had decided that she would lose her virginity to Irwin.
    • But after they have sex, Esther starts to hemorrhage. Irwin drives Esther over to Joan's place.
    • Not really wanting to share with Joan what happened, Esther just says she's having a problem with her period. Esther, still bleeding profusely, gets Joan to help her to the emergency room, where she gets medical attention.
    • Back at the asylum, Esther is fast asleep when she's woken up by Dr. Quinn, Joan's psychiatrist. Dr. Quinn asks Esther whether she knows where Joan is. Since the episode in Cambridge, Joan checked back into the institution, although still able to leave the institution for visits into town.
    • Esther tells Dr. Quinn that she doesn't know, and goes back to sleep.
    • Esther is woken up again by Dr. Quinn, who tells her that Joan has been found. Joan had committed suicide by hanging herself in the nearby woods.
  • Chapter 20

    • It's now January, a week before Esther's exit interview, which will determine whether she's ready to be discharged. Dr. Nolan prepares her for life after the asylum. Back at school, still on Philomena Guinea's scholarship, Esther would have to face her peers' sometimes unfriendly attention.
    • Esther receives a visit from Buddy. Esther digs his car out of the snow because Buddy so recently had tuberculosis.
    • Their visit is friendly, even comical when Buddy asks Esther whether something in him drives women to go "crazy," like Esther and Joan. Esther laughs.
    • Later, Esther gives Irwin a call asking him to pay her emergency room bill. He agrees, and asks if he can see her again. Esther rejects him.
    • Esther then attends Joan's funeral. She recognizes some of her friends from high school and college, as well as DeeDee and Nurse Kennedy from the asylum.
    • It is now the day of the exit interview. The board room door opens, and Esther sees all of the doctors and nurses prepared to examine her. The novel closes as Esther steps into the room.