The Bell Jar/Characters

  • Esther Greenwood


  • Doreen

One of the two girls Esther meets during her internship in New York. According to Esther, she's extremely attractive and enjoys the attention and company of men. She's described as coming from a "society girls' college down South" with "bright white hair standing out in a cotton candy fluff round her head and blue eyes like transparent agate marbles". With her aggressive type of attractiveness, Doreen is an example of the "liberated woman". She smokes, drinks, goes to parties alone and has casual sex with men. She represents one of the roads Esther's life could take if she decided to follow Doreen in her ways. She breaks the social conventions of the 50's, which makes her very appealing to Esther.

  • Betsy

The other of the two girls from the internship in New York. Betsy is shown as a polar opposite of Doreen. She comes from Kansas and is described as having a "bouncing blonde ponytail and Sweetheart-of-Sigma-Chi smile." Betsy is very pretty, but has none of the cynicism of Doreen. She's earnest and cheerful, but not very bright; very docile in comparison to Doreen's aggressiveness. Her ambition in life is to marry a nice man and be a happy wife. She also becomes reasonably successful as a "cover girl", as Ether mentions seeing her face in ads now and then. She represents the way Esther's life could go if she conformed to the expectations of the society: the life of a timid housewife.

  • Jay Cee

Senior Editor at the Ladies' Day magazine Esther works at as an intern. According to Esther she's "plug-ugly", but her looks are negated by the fact that she's hard-working, intelligent and successful. She's stern but fair, and urges Esther to strive towards a career, acting like a surrogate mother figure. A famous, influential editor at a big New York magazine, she exemplifies the stereotypical woman of success and serves as a vision of another possible future, should Esther choose to pursue a career in journalism.

  • Doctor Nolan

Esther's leading psychologist during her stay at Belview. She's smart, understanding and caring. She holds Esther's trust and provides her with the means of recovery. There is no mention of her having a family, but she gives Esther the push to make her first steps towards independence.

  • Doctor Gordon

Esther's first doctor. He's attractive, has a wife and two children and owns a private medical institution. He's friendly, but a bit impersonal, giving off a very bad impression to Esther when they first meet. The shock therapy he performed on Esther is botched, leading to her fear of psychologists and such forms of treatment. After Esther leaves his hospital he doesn't reappear in the story.

  • Joan

Esther's acquaintance and fellow patient at the Belview hospital. She's described as "horsey", with big teeth and goggly, grey eyes. It is strongly implied that she's a lesbian and is interested sexually in Esther. She seems to mirror Esther's progress, where she gets worse as Esther makes her recovery. At one point it Esther even questions whether she's a real character or just a creation of her imagination. She represents Esther's fears about not recovering from her condition.

  • Mrs. Greenwood

Esther's mother. As a subversion of the usual social order where the male is the earner, she's the head of their home and has to support the family on her own after her husbands' death. She teaches shorthand as a means of earning money and tries to convince Esther to learn it as well, so that she would have a means of supporting herself in the future. Well-meaning and loving, yet detached from her daughter.

  • Buddy Willard

Esther's "husband to be". He comes from a successful, wealthy family and is destined to be just as wealthy and successful himself. He's studying medicine and considers himself to be the intelligent, rational scientist, in contrast to Esther's neurotic, sensitive poetic sensibilities. In his relationship with Esther he's the one with the initiative. He humors Esther by trying his hand at poetry, but makes it obvious that in their future together he expects her to eventually "grow out" of it. His hypocrisy leads Esther to ultimately reject his advances.

  • Mrs. Willard

Buddy's mother, the ideal housewife. Despite her education she stays at home and keeps herself busy with pointless housework. She's the Esther who married her Buddy. Not outwardly unhappy, but limited by her social role and unambitious.

  • Mr. Willard

Buddy's father. A wealthy, successful man that is presented as an almost mirror image of his son, only many years older. Not malicious or evil in any way, yet very traditional in his view of male and female social roles. He's not very outspoken, but seems to take a liking to Esther and tells her he would be happy to welcome her to the family and call her his daughter.

  • Constantin

A Russian simultaneous interpreter from the UN, introduced to Esther by Mrs. Willard. He's shorter than Esther, but nonetheless attractive. He's worldly, educated and greatly impresses Esther, who feels limited and inadequate near him. He's the man she wants to seduce her, but their evening together proves uneventful. As Esther's hypothetical future husband he mirrors Mr Willard and Buddy: a successful, attractive man that goes to work in the morning , comes back in the evening and expects his wife to wait for him with a kiss and dinner.

  • Irwin

A twenty-six-year-old university professor. Described to have the "hairless body of a boy genius". He's tall and has an ugly, but intelligent face. Allegedly popular with the ladies. Esther meets him by chance on the Widener Library steps and is invited to coffee. Later on, after seeing his study, Esther decides to seduce Irwin and lose her virginity with him. Their relationship is short and passionless. The culmination of Esther's relationships in the book.

  • Philomena Guinea

A famous, wealthy female author. Esther, as a promising female writer, receives a scholarship funded by Guinea and meets her for a courtesy visit. After Esther's suicide attempt, she takes an active interest in her case, ensuring that Esther stays at a good private hospital until she recovers.