The Bell Jar: Novel Summary: Chapters 7-8
Constantin takes Esther for a tour of the UN, and she sits in the auditorium, listening to a female Russian interpreter. The interpreter and Constantin seem so efficient that Esther starts to think about her own inadequacies. She cannot cook, she does not know shorthand, she cannot dance or sing, and has a terrible sense of balance. She cannot ride a horse or ski, or speak other languages. All she can do, she reflects, is win scholarships, and those days are coming to an end.
But she enjoys the lunch at the restaurant Constantin takes her to, and feels so good that she decides she will allow Constantin to seduce her. Ever since Buddy told her about the waitress he had slept with, Esther had wanted to lose her virginity, to even up the score. She thinks Constantin is a good choice because he seems mature and considerate. However, although Constantin invites her up to his apartment, he shows no desire to seduce her. They lie on the bed together, but nothing sexual happens. Esther falls asleep and wakes at 3 a.m. Constantin is asleep beside her, still dressed. She reflects on how she does not want to get married, to Constantin or anyone else, because the terms of the marriage are always dictated by men, and would result in a dreary and wasted life for her.
Constantin wakes up and takes her back to her hotel room, where she lies awake until seven.
Esther recalls the occasion when she and Buddy's father went to visit him at the sanatorium. It was the day after Christmas. On the journey, Mr. Willard hints that he expects Esther and Buddy to marry. When they arrive at the sanatorium, Esther is surprised to find that Buddy has got fat. He explains that they are given too much food and take too little exercise. Mr. Willard soon leaves, and Esther and Buddy are left alone. Buddy asks her to marry him. He assures her that he will soon recover and be back in medical school, but Esther replies that she is never going to marry. Buddy seems undeterred by this, and he takes Esther skiing on Mount Pisgah. He spends all morning teaching her, but then when she descends from a hill she falls and breaks her leg in two places.
These chapters show how 1950s America was a man's world as far as sexual morality was concerned. When Esther reads "In Defense of Chastity," an article in Reader's Digest by a woman lawyer, she finds that it is mainly about women's chastity, not men's. Men want their wives to be virgins ("They wanted to be the ones to teach their wives about sex," as Esther summarizes it), but do not apply the same standards to themselves. And yet they do not, according to the woman lawyer, respect the girls they persuade to sleep with them. Esther astutely notes that "the one thing this article didn't seem to me to consider was how a girl felt." This is so even though the author of the article is a woman. It is as if she has internalized the male point of view.
Esther has learned from Buddy that men have double standards when it comes to sex, and she strongly objects to it: "I couldn't stand the idea of a woman having to have a single pure life and a man being able to have a double life, one pure and one not."
In addition to her questioning of prevailing sexual morality, Esther's dissatisfaction with the social role ascribed to women is clear from the fact that she rejects marriage. She does not want the passive, uncreative role that she fears would be her lot if she were to marry. She thinks of what being married to Constantin might be like. She imagines spending her time at home cooking and cleaning while her husband goes off to his "fascinating, lively day." This would be stifling for her. As she puts it, "The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket."
Esther also learns in her encounter with Constantin that the most attractive, suitable men are not always the ones who most want to seduce her, and vice versa (as she will learn further in chapter 9).