The narrator of the novel, Esther Greenwood is a scholarship student at a prestigious women's college entering her senior year as the novel begins, and working at an internship for Ladies Day magazine in New York City. However, she faces an increasing sense of anxiety concerning her future during this time, not sure what career path she will take or whether she will take one at all and instead get married. This anxiety leads to a severe depression and a suicide attempt from which Esther slowly recovers through asserting her independence.
He is the houseman at the hospital where Esther stays after her suicide attempt. He visits Esther there because they go to the same church, but Esther tells him never to return, believing that he is visiting only because her suicide attempt has made her a curiosity.
Nicknamed "Pollyanna Cowgirl" by Doreen, Betsy is another intern at Ladies Day, an innocent Southern girl. After spending time with Doreen, Esther realizes that she is more like the naïve Betsy than the savvy and sophisticated Doreen.
He is a baby-faced blond young man with whom Esther goes to the beach, having been set up by her friend Jody and Jody's boyfriend, Mark. While at the beach, Cal and Esther discuss a play about a man who contracts a brain disease from his association with unclean' women.
He is an interpreter at the United Nations, and differs from American men according to Esther because he has intuition. He shows Esther the U.N. and takes her out to lunch, after which she decides to let Constantin seduce her. However, the two merely fall asleep next to each other.
She is the Catholic neighbor of the Greenwoods, a woman with six children who fascinates Esther because of this large family
A sophisticated and cynical college student from the South who is in New York city interning at Ladies Day with Esther, Doreen is a problem for Esther, for she places Esther in difficult situations. Doreen represents a mature and unhindered female sexuality that threatens Esther, who decides not to associate with Doreen after she cares for her when Doreen comes home from her boyfriend's apartment ill with a hangover.
She is a former girlfriend of Buddy Willard who enters the same mental institution as Esther after a similar suicide attempt but quickly secures her own release from the institution. Nevertheless, the seemingly confident Joan in fact suffers greater problems than Esther. Joan's confidence is simple display; although she appears self-assured, leaving the institution after only a short stay to live with a nurse in Cambridge and even believing that she could become a psychiatrist, Joan is in fact more aimless than Esther herself. After returning to the institution she hangs herself.
He is the attractive male doctor whom Esther sees because she suffers from insomnia. Callous and oblivious to Esther's problems, his major question for her is what college she attends, and his treatment consists simply of scheduling her for painful shock treatments.
Esther's mother is well-intentioned and hard-working, striving to provide for her children after Esther's father died without any life insurance. However, she gains Esther's scorn because of the lack of attention she provides her daughter as well as the often obtuse comments that she makes to Esther concerning her mental illness, which show that she is more concerned about the social ramifications of Esther's stay in the hospital than the actual state of her daughter's health.
She is a wealthy older woman and philanthropist who provides for the scholarship that Esther won to her college. After learning of Esther's suicide attempt through the newspaper coverage of the incident, Philomena Guinea provides for Esther's stay at the mental institution. Despite her kindness and concern for Esther, Esther cannot feel considerably grateful to Philomena Guinea for her financial support.
She is a tall girl with huge green eyes who attends a special school in New York for making hats. She relishes the idea that the Rosenbergs will be executed soon, in contrast to Esther's sympathy for them.
He is a mathematics professor at Harvard whom Esther meets on the steps of Widener library. Esther decides to seduce him, but after the two have sex Esther begins to bleed uncontrollably and must go to the hospital to deal with this hemorrhaging. Esther refuses to see Irwin after this incident.
She is Esther's editor at Ladies Day and offers Esther career advice, telling her that she must be more decisive and offer more than the run-of-the-mill person. Despite her sharp manner, Jay Cee consoles Esther, who greatly admires Jay Cee.
She is a friend of Esther who is working at Harvard while taking a sociology course there during the summer. She and her boyfriend Mark set up Esther with Cal.
He is the professor of chemistry at Esther's college. Esther convinces him that she should not have to take chemistry for credit because she would be doing it only for a high grade, when in fact she does not want to take chemistry because it is a very difficult subject for her.
He is a Peruvian man with whom Esther goes out on a date before she leaves New York. He is an adamant woman-hater' who despises all women as sluts, and attempts to rape Esther.
She is the psychiatrist who treats Esther once she enters the mental institution. Esther immediately trusts and respects her, but she betrays Esther when she schedules Esther for electroshock therapy despite her vow to tell Esther before giving her the treatment.
She is Esther's next-door neighbor, a retired nurse who monitors Esther's behavior and spies on her through her window to catch her engaged in improper activity.
She is Joan's therapist, who suggests to Joan that she become a psychiatrist herself. It is she who tells Esther that Joan has committed suicide.
She is a woman at Belsize who worries that her daughters will not be debutantes because she is at a mental institution.
He is a disc jockey whom Doreen begins dating while in New York. Esther goes out with Doreen and Lenny, but is forced to leave them alone when they become intimate back at Lenny's apartment.
He is a former boyfriend of Esther who often preoccupies her thoughts. Although she initially believed Buddy Willard to be essentially perfect, Esther comes to hate Buddy because of his hypocrisy, for he appreciates Esther for her purity despite the fact that he had an affair with a waitress. A medical student, Buddy contracts TB and must stay at a hospital in the Adirondacks. Buddy represents a dominant and condescending male sexuality from which Esther attempts to escape and rebel.
The Bell Jar Questions and Answers
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