Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
*Boston suburbs. Esther’s family home, to which she returns from New York. Rather than providing her with the peace and quiet she needs to regain her bearings before returning to college, Esther’s time in her mother’s home furthers her descent into a debilitating depression. Her unsympathetic mother offers little in the way of consolation, unable to see her daughter’s condition as anything more than a case of pre-graduation jitters. However, Esther regards her return home with even greater foreboding than she does her time in New York. Whereas most disillusioned city-dwellers might welcome the stability and familiarity of a retreat to the suburbs, Esther sees their “white, identical clapboard houses” as “one bar after another in a large but escape-proof cage.”
Not only is she uncomfortable at work, but similarly disillusioned in her relationships with men. After finding out that her fiancé has secretly been having an affair with another woman, she feels betrayed and finds it difficult to trust the other men she meets. Isolated from productive influences while cloistered in her mother’s home, Esther begins to obsess over what she sees as a fateful chain of personal failures. After only a few weeks there she attempts suicide.
Esther’s college. Unnamed New England women’s college famous for its academic rigor that is modeled after Plath’s own alma mater, Smith College, in Massachusetts. None of the novel’s scenes are expressly set at this college, because Esther’s depression prevents her from returning there for her senior year; however, she repeatedly reflects on a number of things that happened there earlier that set the stage for her breakdown. She has maintained straight A’s at the college but regards her academic achievements as meaningless in the personal and professional world that beckons her after graduation.
Walton Hospital. Private asylum in which Esther is institutionalized after her emotional condition worsens. There she initially fails to respond positively to electroshock therapy–which she finds so violent and frightening she likens it to electrocution–but eventually begins to improve with the help of a sensitive, compassionate psychotherapist. At the end of the novel she stands at the threshold of gaining release from the institution. Although she remains emotionally fragile, Esther is confident that she has gained a reprieve from “the bell jar” her illness lowered mysteriously and unmercifully around her.