Page 126. " They had a WAC station, didn't they? Or was it WAVES?' "
'My, they were a pretty bunch of girls!' (WAAC recruits in 1942)
Public Domain'My, they were a pretty bunch of girls!' (WAAC recruits in 1942) - Credit: U.S. Army

The Women's Army Corps (WAC) was the female branch of the United States Army.

It was founded in 1942 under the title Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), which was changed to WAC in 1943.

Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), founded in 1942, was the name given to the female branch of the U.S. Navy.

Page 126. " there must be as many sailors on the Common as there were pigeons "
Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument on Boston Common
Public DomainSoldiers' and Sailors' Monument on Boston Common - Credit: Eos 12, Wikimedia Commons

Boston Common, often known as 'the Common', is an area of parkland in the centre of Boston, Massachusetts.

Google Map
Page 127. " after tea on Beacon Hill or shopping in Filene's Basement "
The Beacon Hill area of Boston
Public DomainThe Beacon Hill area of Boston - Credit: M2545, Wikimedia Commons
Frontage of Filene's Department Store, Boston
Creative Commons AttributionFrontage of Filene's Department Store, Boston - Credit: jbcurio (Jamie), Flickr

Beacon Hill is an historic area of Boston, renowned today for its affluence and desirability.

Sylvia Plath and her husband, Ted Hughes, lived at 9 Willow Street, Beacon Hill for nine months or so during 1958 and 1959.

Filene's Basement was the lower ground floor, 'bargain basement' area of Filene's Department Store in Boston. Many years later, the name Filene's Basement, or just The Basement, was given to a chain of Massachusetts-based cut-price stores.

Page 128. " He pushed his white cup-cake cap to one side "
'Summer whites'
Public Domain'Summer whites' - Credit: U.S. Navy (Joshua J. Wahl)

Traditionally, enlisted sailors in the U.S. Navy wore white uniforms in summer ('summer whites') and navy in winter ('winter blues'). Both uniforms were worn with the distinctive white cap which Sylvia Plath refers to as the 'cup-cake' cap.

During recent years, U.S. Navy uniforms have been modified to reflect the needs of the modern service, but 'cup-cake' caps are retained as part of the 'dress uniform' worn on formal occasions.


'Winter blues'
Public Domain'Winter blues' - Credit: U.S.Navy (Drew Williams)
Page 128. " 'I might just go to college on the G.I. Bill' "
American G.I.'s in the Korean War (1950)
Public DomainAmerican G.I.s in the Korean War (1950) - Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

The term 'G.I.' (which may be a noun or an adjective) is used to describe a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, or items of equipment used by the Armed Forces. It is short for 'Government Issue', although some wrongly believe it to be an abbreviation of 'General Infantry'. Originally, 'G.I.' stood for 'Galvanised Iron', the material from which many items used by the Armed Forces were made.

The official title of the 'G.I. Bill' was the 'Servicemen's Readjustment Act', passed in 1944. Its object was to provide college or vocational training and financial support to returning veterans of World War II. The term 'G.I. Bill' was subsequently used to describe aid programs for both war veterans and other discharged servicemen.

Page 128. " The subway that goes out to the Deer Island Prison "

The Deer Island Prison, located on Deer Island in Boston Harbour, was in operation between approximately 1880 and 1991. It held offenders serving fairly short-term sentences for crimes such as drunkenness and disorderly conduct.

Deer Island Prison
Public DomainDeer Island Prison - Credit: New England Magazine (1898)
Page 132. " the Christian Science Monitor which appeared on the door-step at five o'clock every day but Sunday "
Copy of the Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 2006
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCopy of the Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 2006 - Credit: Stan Wiechers, Flickr

The newspaper The Christian Science Monitor was launched in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1919), who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist in 1879. The stated aim of the Monitor was 'to injure no man but to bless all mankind'.

The newspaper continued to be published Monday to Friday, both in America and internationally, up until March 2009. However, due to serious financial difficulties, it was decided that from April 2009 it would be published weekly in print form. It continues to offer daily news on its website, and via e-mail.

Page 132. " A big white swan full of little children approached my bench "

The 'Swan Boats' have been operating on the lake of the Public Garden in Boston since 1877. They have now become one of the city's cultural icons.

Boston Public Gardens 'Swan Boat'
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBoston Public Gardens 'Swan Boat' - Credit: Captain-tucker, Wikimedia Commons
Page 132. " My favourite was the Weeping Scholar Tree "
Sophora japonica 'Pendula'
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSophora japonica 'Pendula' - Credit: Roberta F., Wikimedia Commons

The 'Weeping Scholar Tree', Sophora japonica 'Pendula', is native to China, but is sometimes known as the 'Weeping Japanese Pagoda Tree'.


Page 133. " except for the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia's Chair, I was hopeless at stars "
View of the Northern Light, 2004
Creative Commons AttributionView of the Northern Light, 2004 - Credit: Image Editor, Wikimedia Commons

The 'Big Dipper' or 'Plough' is a star formation in the night sky whose distinctive shape has been recognised and noted in many different cultures.

It consists of the seven brightest stars of the constellation Ursa Major, which is also known as the 'Great Bear'.

'Cassiopeia' is a W-shaped northern constellation which in Greek mythology is said to represent the queen Cassiopeia.

'Cassiopeia's Chair' consists of the five or six brightest stars in the constellation that are sometimes said to form the shape of a chair.

In the picture above, astronomy buffs may be able to locate the 'Big Dipper' (somwhere on the left) and 'Cassiopeia' (somewhere on the right). The rest of us may just have to acknowledge, like Esther Greenwood, that we're 'hopeless at stars'.

Page 136. " I had tried to ask him what the shock treatment would be like "

The 'shock treatment' referred to is known as ECT or Electroconvulsive therapy, a form of psychiatric treatment (usually for major depression) which was developed during the 1930's.

It involves the inducing of seizures in a patient through the administration of electric shock to the brain via electrodes placed on either side of the head.

Nowadays, patients receiving ECT are given a short-acting anaesthetic and a muscle relaxant to prevent a full-blown seizure occurring. However, during the 1940's and 1950's, ECT was often given in its 'unmodified' form without anaesthesia or muscle relaxants. 

It is this primitive form of ECT which Esther Greenwood is about to receive.



 Sylvia Plath was given ECT as an out-patient in the summer of 1953.


Page 138. " I wondered what terrible thing it was that I had done "
Italian poster for film 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'
Creative Commons AttributionItalian poster for film 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' - Credit: lerble, Flickr

Esther Greenwood sees the horrific experience of the ECT as a punishment, which reminds us of the opening chapter of The Bell Jar where the Rosenbergs' punishment by electrocution is discussed. 

It is as if the two experiences, electrocution in the electric chair and the experience of ECT, have become one in Esther Greenwood's mind. We are made to feel that she has perhaps, during the ECT, experienced what she was speculating on in the first paragraph of the novel when she wrote, 'I couldn't help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves'.

The overt use of 'unmodified' ECT as a punishment occurs in Ken Kesey's 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest which is set in an Oregon asylum. The novel was later made into a film  in which Jack Nicholson plays the part of the character subjected to the unjustified ECT.