Back in the present, Esther is almost at the end of her internship. She is in Jay Cee's office, reluctantly having her photograph taken for the magazine. All the interns are having their photos taken and have to pose with a prop that illustrates what they want to do with their lives. Esther, who still does not know, blurts out that she wants to be a poet, so she poses holding a paper rose, which is supposed to show where her poetic inspiration comes from.
But Esther is unhappy and feels like she is going to cry. When the photographer tells her to smile she cannot hold back the tears and buries her face in the loveseat. Tactfully, Jay Cee and the photographer leave. When Jay Cee returns after a decent interval, she brings some manuscripts for Esther to read.
The day before Esther is due to leave New York and take the train home, Doreen persuades her to go to a country club dance somewhere in the wealthy suburbs. At the dance, a dark man in an immaculate white suit, named Marco, gives Esther a diamond in a stickpin. Marco has a sinister quality about him, and Esther realizes he is a woman-hater. When she tells him she cannot dance to South American music he seizes her drink and throws it away. Then he forces her to dance a tango with him, even though she does not know the steps. During an interval in the music Marco takes her into the garden. Something she says provokes him, and he throws her to the ground. Then he falls on her, ripping her clothes and calling her a slut. She bites him and gouges his leg with the heel of her shoe, and then punches him on the nose. She begins to cry, and Marco sits up. His nose is bleeding. She starts to walk off but he demands that she give him back his diamond. At first she says she does not know where it is, but when Marco threatens to break her neck, she tells him it is in her evening bag, which is somewhere on the muddy ground. She leaves him on his hands and knees, looking for the bag. In the parking lot, she manages to get someone to give her a ride back to Manhattan. Back in her hotel room just before dawn, on her last night in the city, she opens the window and piece by piece throws all her wardrobe out.
She returns home by train to the suburbs of Boston, and her mother picks her up at the railway station. Esther is immediately disappointed when her mother tells her that she has not been accepted on a summer writing course at Harvard that she had applied to.
The following morning, after her mother has left the house to go to her job as a teacher of shorthand and typing, Esther looks out of the window and watches as a neighborhood woman named Dodo Conway wheels her black baby carriage down the street, accompanied by two or three children. Dodo has six children and is pregnant with her seventh. She looks up at Esther's window as she passes, and Esther crawls back into bed. She pulls the covers over her head and pretends it is night. She can see no point in getting up.
But she does get up to answer the telephone. It is her friend Judy, from Cambridge, with whom she had been planning to live while on the writing course. She explains to Judy that she will not be coming. Judy tries to persuade her to take another course instead, but Esther says no.
She opens a letter from Buddy, who has invited her to stay with him and his mother in the Adironbacks for the month of July. He also says he is probably falling in love with a nurse who also has TB, but he thinks it is probably just an infatuation. Esther writes on the back of his letter that she is engaged to an interpreter and never wants to see him again because she does not want her children to have a hypocrite for a father.
She decides she will spend the summer writing a novel. She writes a few sentences but spends hours staring into space. She eventually decides that she does not have enough experience of life to write a novel.
In the evening, her mother convinces her that she should study shorthand in the evenings. But Esther cannot visualize herself doing a job in which she used shorthand. She decides instead to spend the summer reading James Joyce's novel, Finnegans Wake. But she still has no idea of what to do with her future.
When she tries reading Finnegans Wake she cannot concentrate on it. She decides she will drop her honors program and become an ordinary English major. But that would involve taking a course in the eighteenth century, which does not interest her. She just does not know what to do. She thinks of becoming a typist or a waitress, but cannot stand the thought of either.
The family doctor puts her on sleeping pills, but Esther complains after a week that they do not work any more. Teresa, the doctor, sends her to see Doctor Gordon, a psychiatrist.
Esther's violent encounter with Marco serves her as some kind of initiation, as if she has been through a rite of passage. She is left with two diagonal lines of dried blood on her face but she makes a deliberate decision not to wash them off. The blood image will return later, also in connection with men and sex, and suggests that Esther's progress through life is marked by suffering.
It is in these chapters that Esther first shows signs of clinical depression. She has crying fits (in Jay Cee's office, for example), she cannot concentrate, and in spite of all her academic success, she has feelings of inadequacy. She even thinks she is on the wrong program at college, but she is unable to make any decisions and stick to them. When she pulls the bed sheet over her head and sees no point in getting up in the morning, it is clear that she needs medical help.
One of Esther's problems is that she does not really know who she is. She cannot decide on an identity. When she throws all her clothes out of the hotel window, she is rejecting the false self that she had presented at the magazine, but she has no other self to replace it with. This is symbolized several times in the novel when she looks in a mirror and does not recognize what she sees as a reflection of herself: "The face in the mirror looked like a sick Indian," she says on the train journey home.