Why Was Esther Bleeding in the Bell Jar?

By April Quinones Written by April Quinones
Updated on April 2, 2022

The Bell Jar, written by Sylvia Plath, features quite a lot of blood. Among other things, the main character Esther bleeds when she loses her virginity.

Bleeding is a recurring motif in the novel and was used by the author to symbolize some of the key ideas she wanted to show.

A Brief Introduction of Esther Greenwood

The main character of this coming-of-age novel is called Esther Greenwood. What makes her so different from other protagonists in similar works is that madness takes over her life.

In a society where women are expected to be perky and cheerful, she instead has a dark and brooding nature. She does not follow societal expectations, which leads her to lose her virginity prior to marriage, one of the reasons she bleeds over the course of the novel.

Short Recap of the Events in Chapter 19

Chapter 19 is the novel’s penultimate chapter and includes its biggest turning point. It starts with Joan telling Esther her plans of becoming a psychiatrist and moving into a house with one of the nurses.

Esther has her first sexual encounter with a math professor called Irwin, whom she had just met while on a night pass. She lies to Dr. Nolan about staying with Joan for the night to stay with him.

Though she expects sex to change her, she experiences nothing but pain. Irwin assures her that it is normal, but the bleeding does not stop.

He takes her to Joan, whom he tells to contact a doctor as Esther is hemorrhaging. Doctors do not entertain them over the phone, so they have to do something else.

Esther is taken to the Emergency Room, where she informs a nurse about what really happened. A doctor then explains that this is a rare case and treats her.

A few days after this incident, Dr. Quinn wakes Esther up at the asylum in the middle of the night to ask about Joan, who has gone missing. Later, Dr. Quinn informs Esther that they found Joan dead after hanging herself in a tree outside the asylum.

Why Esther Was Bleeding

In Chapter 19, Esther bleeds so heavily after losing her virginity that she requires medical attention. It must be said that this is not something that happens in real life, so this may be seen as symbolic more than anything else.

This can be likened to a ritual sacrifice as Esther sacrifices her body in her quest to seek peace of mind. Likewise, she is willing to give up her virginity to rid herself of societal expectations and gain new experiences.

In the end, it turns out that she is wrong for thinking that sex will help her. Instead, the thing that she expected to change her miraculously, gave her pain instead of pleasure and relief.

What Blood Represents in Esther’s Life

This is not the first nor only instance that blood is present in the book. In fact, it marks developments in her life earlier on in the novel.

Esther punches Marco and makes him bleed after he tries to rape her. He then proceeds to smear the blood all over her cheeks.

During her suicide attempt, she also practices slashing on her calf.

All the blood depicted in the novel demonstrates how traumatic and violent her experiences have been. Unfortunately for Esther, there is more suffering and pain than joy in her life.

A Look at The Tragedy that Esther Greenwood Experienced

Suffice to say, Esther Greenwood does not have the most pleasant life. The hemorrhage after her first sexual encounter must have been traumatic as well.

It is not only the pain of the experience that made her suffer. After all, she also has to deal with the fact that sex is not the miraculous game-changer she assumed it is.

On top of that, doctors refused to attend to her upon figuring out that her issue was related to premarital sex. This is another sign of how badly society treats women.

The death of Joan later overshadows this incident. Fortunately, this tragedy pushes Esther in the right direction.

Suffering Does Not Always Involve Blood

While blood is present during painful moments in the book, there are also instances when it is not. This is most evident when she tries to take her life by overdosing on pills, though she survives this ordeal.

Such incidents demonstrate that pain can be both visible and invisible to the eye just because we cannot see it does not mean that it is not painful or even traumatic.

As we can see, Esther is battling many inner demons. It is easy to dismiss things we cannot see, but this does not mean that it does not happen.