The Bell Jar: Novel Summary: Chapters 17-18
Esther is moved into a different ward, named Belsize, which is where patients go when they are being prepared for release. They are given benefits such as shopping privileges. Esther knows that Joan has been moved to Belsize, and she also believes that now she does not have to fear more electric shock treatments.
Esther tries to mix with the other women in Belsize, but she does not really fit in. One of the patients finds the fashion magazine with Esther's picture in it, but Esther denies that it is her.
One day the nurse does not bring her any breakfast, and she realizes to her horror that she is to have another electric shock treatment. She feels betrayed by Dr. Nolan and curls up with a blanket in an alcove. Dr. Nolan arrives and explains that she will be there throughout the treatment, so everything will be all right. Esther goes along with the doctor, apprehensive but unresisting. In the treatment room, a woman named Miss Huey prepares her for the electric shock.
When she wakes after the treatment, the first thing she sees is Dr. Nolan's face. Esther is surprised at how peaceful she feels. The doctor tells her she will be having shock treatments three times a week. In fact, Esther has only five more treatments, and she begins to recover. She is given town privileges by the hospital.
One day Joan and Esther both receive letters from Buddy. He has recovered from his illness and wants to visit them both, but neither of them particularly wants to see him. Esther discovers that Joan is more lesbian than heterosexual, and when Joan says that she likes Esther, Esther reacts negatively and walks out of the room.
On one of her town visits, Esther goes to a clinic and gets fitted for a diaphragm. This gives her a sense of freedom from men; now she can seek sexual experience without having to worry about pregnancy. She has no maternal instinct and does not want children.
Esther is getting stronger and is able to think more clearly than before. As she begins to search for a stable sense of identity, she makes some constructive choices. She rejects Buddy because she still regards him as a hypocrite, and the conventional kind of marriage, in which she is housewife to a handsome doctor, does not appeal to her. She also rejects a possible alternative of homosexuality when she sees it in Joan. Lesbianism has no appeal for her.
She still seeks to lose her virginity, which she regards as a millstone around her neck. Her acquisition of birth control represents a step toward emancipation from the limited, dependent role ascribed to her as a woman. As she confides to Dr. Nolan, who has become her ally, "What I hate is the thought of being under a man's thumb . . . . A man doesn't have worry in the world, while I've got a baby hanging over my head like a big stick, to keep me in line." Now Esther is taking practical steps to achieve the life she wants, she is clearly on the road to recovery.