The Bell Jar

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Esther Greenwood

An honors student, frequent prizewinner, and talented poet, Esther Greenwood develops serious mental illness while working in New York one summer and, after attempting suicide, spends the next half year gradually working her way back… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Buddy Willard
Esther’s handsome boyfriend, a self-congratulating, parsimonious, know-it-all doctor who grows subdued after contracting TB. Esther thinks Buddy is a hypocrite for pretending to be pure after sleeping with Gladys and breaks up with him.
Mrs. Greenwood
The nervous, conservative mother of Esther who advises Esther to learn shorthand and stay abstinent while she’s healthy and, when Esther’s gets sick, worries that it is her own fault.
Esther’s friend in New York and the sexiest, worldliest rule-breaker among the contest winners. Doreen is always trying to get Esther to abandon her responsibilities. Esther admires Doreen but thinks, deep down, that she is more like Betsy.
Joan Gilling
A horsy girl from Esther’s college who briefly dates Buddy, then emulates Esther’s suicide attempt and joins her at the private asylum. Joan has an affair with DeeDee and later hangs herself.
Jay Cee
The fiction editor at the magazine Esther works for in New York and Esther’s boss. Jay Cee is witty and powerful. Doreen points out that she is also very ugly. Jay Cee urges Esther to enter a high-achieving career like her own.
A wholesome Kansan and Esther’s fellow contest winner who looks out for her in New York. Doreen calls Betsy "Pollyanna Cowgirl."
Mrs. Willard
Buddy Willard’s mother and the self-satisfied dispenser of conservative maxims about marriage and womanhood.
Dr. Nolan
Esther’s compassionate, progressive-thinking psychiatrist at the private asylum.
Philomena Guinea
A famous wealthy novelist and Esther’s patron, paying for her college tuition and then her stay at the private asylum.
Dodo Conway
The poor, eccentric Catholic who lives in Esther’s hometown and bears seven children.
The elegant and sophisticated simultaneous interpreter who Esther meets through Mrs. Willard.
A dapper misogynist who tries to rape Esther at the country club dance.
Mr. Willard
Father to Buddy and husband to Mrs. Willard, Mr. Willard is a shy man who fears the sight of his son’s illness.
The math professor who Esther loses her virginity to.
Dr. Gordon
The conceited, unsympathetic psychiatrist who messes up Esther’s electric shock, causing her great pain.
Dr. Quinn
Joan’s psychiatrist at the private asylum and a proponent of Freudian theory.
Esther’s kindly family doctor who first recommends Esther seek psychiatric help.
A cold-hearted designer of hats and Esther’s fellow contest winner in New York.
Mrs. Tomolillo
The woman who Esther watches give birth at Buddy’s medical school. Later, Esther thinks she is also a mental patient at the city hospital.
Lenny Shepherd
A disc jockey and Doreen’s boyfriend in New York.
Miss Norris
A polite but mute patient at the private asylum who fascinates Esther.
A lobotomized patient at the private asylum who is content never to leave.
Mrs. Mole
An unruly patient at the city hospital.
A patient at the private asylum who is Joan’s friend and lover.
Esther’s Brother
Esther’s little brother, who is away studying in Germany during Esther’s descent into depression but who returns and visits her in the hospital later on.
Esther’s old friend from college.
The sailor
A sailor who flirts with Esther in Boston.
Miss Huey
The administrator of Esther’s electric shock therapy at the private asylum.
The new black attendant
An attendant at the city hospital who Esther kicks.
A short man Lenny Shepherd tries to set Esther up with.
Buddy’s peer at medical school who delivers Mrs. Tomolillo’s baby.
The Cape Cod waitress Buddy had his affair with.
Mr. Manzi
The professor of the chemistry course Esther arranges to audit at college.
The night nurse
The night nurse at the private asylum.
Mrs. Banister
A nurse at the private asylum.
Jody’s boyfriend.
A boy Jody tries to set Esther up with.
A child who nags Esther on the beach.
George Bakewell
A distant one-time acquaintance who visits Esther while she is in the hospital. George has become a doctor, but Esther has the sense that George doesn’t care about her and instead only wants to get a glimpse of an insane person. She orders him out of her room.