The Bell Jar

by: Sylvia Plath

Important Quotations Explained

2. When I was nineteen, pureness was the great issue. Instead of the world being divided up into Catholics and Protestants or Republicans and Democrats or white men and black men or even men and women, I saw the world divided into people who had slept with somebody and people who hadn’t, and this seemed the only really significant difference between one person and another. I thought a spectacular change would come over me the day I crossed the boundary line.

This quotation from Chapter 7 shows that Esther inhabits a world of limited sexual choices. Convention dictates that she will remain a virgin until she marries. If she chooses to have sex before marriage, she risks pregnancy, displeasing her future husband, and ruining her own name. Esther sets out to defy conventional expectations by losing her virginity with someone she does not expect to marry. Despite this firm goal, she finds it difficult to gain an independent sexual identity. The men in her life provide little help: Buddy has traditional ideas about male and female roles even though he has mildly transgressed by having an affair with a waitress; an acquaintance named Eric thinks sex disgusting, and will not have sex with a woman he loves; and Marco calls Esther a slut as he attempts to rape her. When Esther finally loses her virginity, she does not experience the “spectacular change” that she expects, although the experience does satisfy her in some says. Esther only partially escapes the repressive ideas about sexuality that surround her. By losing her virginity, she frees herself of the oppressive mandate to remain pure, but she fails to find sexual pleasure or independence.