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The Bell Jar Characters

This Study Guide consists of approximately 41 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Bell Jar.
This section contains 1,013 words
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Esther Greenwood

Esther is a young college student who feels the pressure to succeed. She has had several successes in college and feels that this is the best time in her life and it will only go downhill. She is spending a month in New York interning at a fashion magazine with some of the best and brightest college students. Esther is able to see more of the world and begins to view the world in a sexual way. She sees the world as those who are virgins and those having sex. She wants to be one of the ones having sex, but she is also repulsed by the thought. She escapes being sexually assaulted and this leaves a rift inside of her.

When she learns that she is not accepted into the summer writing program that she has been coveting, she becomes distraught and begins spiraling into depression. She sees this as the beginning of the end of her success. Esther gets progressively worse and begins to think of ways to commit suicide. She goes to a psychiatrist who uses electroshock therapy that is very painful and scares her. She refuses to go back and her mother agrees to this thinking her daughter wants to get better so she will.

After several attempts, Esther finally almost succeeds in killing herself and ends up in a mental hospital. Her mentor helps her get into a private institution where Esther begins to heal. She finds her sexual freedom when she is fitted for birth control and is able to view sex in a less threatening way. Once Esther has control over something in her life, she begins to become progressively better and once she loses her virginity she is ready to face her future and what it holds. Esther is empowered to become the woman she is meant to be.

Mrs. Greenwood

Mrs. Greenwood is Esther’s mother. She and Esther do not get along. Mrs. Greenwood does not ever tell Esther what to do. She just asks her pointed questions to suggest what she should do. Without showing any feeling, her mother tells Esther that she did not make it into the writing program. She does not know what is important to her daughter; so, she does not understand how the rejection affects her daughter.

Mrs. Greenwood is a simple woman who supports her family by teaching shorthand and typing at the local college. This is how she supports Esther and her brother after their father dies. Esther sees her as weak, but it must have been hard for her to raise her children on her own. Mrs. Greenwood has hardened her heart to deal with the tragedies in her life.

She does not want her daughter to have a mental illness because she knows the stigma that will be placed on her for this. Mrs. Greenwood worries about her daughter and will do anything for her, but Esther does not see this. She blames her mother for her father's death and not being able to mourn for him. Her relationship with her mother is rocky, and she has no respect for Mrs. Greenwood.

Buddy Willard

Buddy Willard is Esther’s boyfriend. He went to Yale and became a doctor. He contracts TB while working at the hospital. Esther dumps him, while he is recovering from his illness. Buddy dated Joan and Esther, and he is concerned that he is the reason they are both in the mental institution. He is concerned that Esther will not find anyone who will want to be with her after her time in a mental institution.

Doctor Nolan

Doctor Nolan is Esther’s psychiatrist when she enters Caplan. She is like a mother figure to Esther. Esther trusts her and is able to recover under her care.

Doreen

Doreen is one of the girls who wins an internship to the fashion magazine. She is sexually active, and Esther finds her fascinating. She has a relationship with Lenny Shepherd.

Joan Gilling

Joan Gilling dated Buddy Willard before Esther. She ends up in the same mental hospital as Esther after trying to commit suicide. She sees Esther as her best friend. Joan hangs herself on the hospital grounds.

Jay Cee

Jay Cee is the editor that Esther works for while she is in New York City for a month. She sees potential in Esther and tries to encourage her.

Betsy

Betsy is one of the girls who won an internship to the fashion magazine. She tries to discourage Esther’s friendship with Doreen. She gives Esther a skirt and blouse when Esther throws her clothes off the hotel roof.

Constantin

Constantin is a simultaneous interpreter at the UN who asks Esther out on a date. They are brought together by Mrs. Willard, Buddy’s mother. At the end of the evening when they go back to Constantin’s apartment, Esther decides she will let him seduce her. Constantin, however, is not interested in Esther sexually and ends up falling asleep instead.

Irwin

Irwin is a math professor that Esther meets while out for the day from the mental hospital. She decides to allow him to seduce her. She ends up hemorrhaging badly after their night together and has to go to the hospital. Once Irwin gets what he wants, he is not interested in Esther any longer and ignores her attempts to communicate with him.

Doctor Gordon

Doctor Gordon is the psychiatrist that Esther’s mother takes her to after she returns home from New York. Mrs. Greenwood is worried about Esther’s behavior since she is acting oddly and does little during the day. Dr. Gordon gives Esther electroshock therapy, and she never returns to his office again.

Philomena Guinea

Philomena Guinea is Esther’s benefactress who provided her with the scholarship that allowed her to attend Smith College. Philomena is a great deal like Esther. She is a successful writer, who has made a great deal of money. She also stayed for a period of time at the mental hospital after she attempted to kill herself.

This section contains 1,013 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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