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"I had always imagined myself hitching up on my elbows on the delivery table after it...

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pashti | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted September 2, 2013 at 6:31 PM via web

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"I had always imagined myself hitching up on my elbows on the delivery table after it was all over, dead white, of course,with no make-up and from the awful ordeal, but smiling and radiant, with my hair down to my waist, and reaching out for my little squirmy child and saying its name, whatever it was." How does this fantasy of Esther's in The Bell Jar contrast with the actual birth she witnessed?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 3, 2013 at 5:23 AM (Answer #1)

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There is a massive difference between Esther's rather sanitised fantasy of what birth is going to be like and then the actual reality that she witnesses when Buddy takes her to see a birth. Firstly, the woman is drugged completely, so much so that she was in a "kind of twilight sleep," according to Buddy. The baby's head, when it does appear, is described only as a "dark fuzzy thing," and the cut that is necessary causes the baby to "pop out" suddenly. Instead of the "squirmy child" Esther imagines reaching for, the baby is "the colour of a blue plum and floured with white stuff and streaked with blood." It is also necessary for the baby to be massaged quickly by the doctor in order for it to start breathing, and eventually it does begin to cry, but then it only pees in the doctor's face. Basically, the experience of birth that Esther witnesses is extremely unpleasant, and even her own fantasy of the mother reaching for her child does not occur:

I think somebody said, "It's a boy, Mrs Tomolillo," but the woman didn't answer or raise her head.

Instead of the mother reaching for her child and saying its name, the mother in this scene does not even appear to be conscious that she has just given birth to her son, and definitely does not express any emotion in the way Esther imagines. This is an experience that Esther feels has been made worse by the doctors because of the way they have reduced the mother to a comatose state.


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