Anna has just put Janet to bed when she receives a call from Molly, asking if she knows where Tommy is. Molly is concerned because Tommy met with Richard earlier that day and has not come home since. A short time later, Molly calls again to explain that Tommy has been to see Marion. After hanging up, Anna is surprised to find that Tommy has arrived at her apartment.
Anna tries to draw Tommy into conversation; he explains that Richard offered him a few different jobs working for his company, but Tommy turned them down, frustrating his father. Tommy and Anna talk about the Communist past of Anna and his mother, and Tommy also explains that he stopped to see Marion. Tommy asks Anna why she keeps four different notebooks, and she explains that she tries to prevent chaos. Anna grows increasingly alarmed as Tommy asks her about her feelings for Janet's father, and she tries to explain to him the way that mothers feel about their children. Tommy expresses anger and frustration with her decision to maintain four notebooks, claiming that Anna is not being authentic or unified in the way she writes and thinks about herself.
Tommy leaves and Anna phones Julia, who is in a more cheerful frame of mind. In the meantime, Marion has notified Anna that she is coming to see her, and she arrives at the flat very drunk. Marion expresses her jealousy of Anna for being free and single, and Anna suggests that she spend the night. Marion laments her unhappy marriage and the fact that Richard is cold, distant, and doesn't seem to be attracted to her. While the two women are speaking, the phone rings again and Anna picks it up. Molly is calling to tell her that Tommy has shot himself. She is convinced her son is going to die.
Anna hangs up and finds that Marion has passed out. She leaves the apartment and rushes to the hospital to join Molly. When she arrives, she learns that Tommy is not expected to live.
With the return to the frame narrative, tensions that were introduced in the first section reach a point of crisis. Tommy seemed at first to have been simply a somewhat aimless and confused young man; here, it becomes much more evident that he is both highly observant and deeply troubled. The connection between the two traits develops the theme that the characters (notably Anna and Tommy) that are most observant and self-aware are the least happy.
Anna seems to manage this tension by compartmentalizing. She defends her choice of keeping different notebooks to Tommy as a way of keeping her different identities and emotions neatly separate from one another. The idea has some merit in principle, especially in that Anna has been different versions of herself at different points in time and also in that she needs to meet the needs of different people. It makes sense that Anna shows a different version of herself to her young daughter than what she brings in to her political activism or her romantic relationships. The question, as Tommy highlights, is whether or not this system actually works.
Because the readers have already seen portions of all four notebooks, they are placed in a parallel position to Tommy, who has violated Anna's trust by looking at the content of the notebooks. If Anna's notebooks function as a way for her to avoid revealing her true self to the people in her life, this encounter with Tommy is one of the few times where Anna is truly vulnerable. Readers, like Tommy, know that Anna's notebooks are not actually neat, tidy, and self-contained, as Anna would like to believe. Despite her best efforts, her pain, desires, and frustrations spread across them. She cannot contain each story to its own notebook because they are all intertwined pieces of her experience and form part of her psyche. As Brook Miller argues, "The complexities of form, plot, and lived conscious experience in The Golden Notebook together point to a need to reject compartmentalization as a dominant mode of thought" (pg. 167). She also cannot write only factual things because her unconscious needs a place to express itself. Anna struggles with writer's block, but she also blocks herself because she represses ideas and emotions when she does not want to deal with them.
Marion, especially in her drunken state, functions as a kind of foil to Anna. If Anna tries to keep everything contained and locked away, Marion functions as a socially unruly presence because she refuses to hide anything. Her drinking problem might be glossed over if she could keep it politely contained, but she has allowed it to disrupt her marriage and domestic life. She also rejects Richard's desire to keep secrets and maintain polite fictions: she finds the truth to be liberating, even if it is hard to face. Anna's gentleness with Marion might reflect her maternal role since she cares for Marion the way a mother might take care of a child, but it perhaps also shows her acknowledging the way in which people, especially women, are caught in a double bind. Anna hides away and represses her true feelings, and when Marion tries to let them out, she ends up in a drunken spectacle.
Tommy's suicide attempt offers a dramatic response to this tension of how to live an honest and authentic life in a world that doesn't seem to tolerate honest self-expression. He had already rejected the kind of life his father led because he knew it would force him to pretend and value things he doesn't actually care about. He seemed to briefly think that by living as an artist he could achieve honesty and self-actualization, but he was frustrated to realize that Anna was also lying to herself, just in a different way. He tries to commit suicide when he realizes that there does not seem to be any way for him to freely be himself and live by his own rules.