The Bell Jar


  • Esther Greenwood is the protagonist of the story, who becomes mentally unstable during a summer spent interning at a magazine in New York City. Tormented by both the death of her father and the feeling that she simply does not fit into the culturally acceptable role of womanhood, she attempts to commit suicide in the hopes of escape.
  • Doreen is a rebel-of-the-times young woman and another intern at Ladies' Day, the magazine for which Esther won an internship for the summer, and Esther's best friend at the hotel in New York where all the interns stay. Esther finds Doreen's confident persona enticing but also troublesome, as she longs for the same level of freedom but knows such behavior is frowned upon.
  • Joan is an old friend of Esther, who joins her at the asylum and eventually commits suicide.
  • Doctor Nolan is Esther's doctor at the asylum. A beautiful and caring woman, her combination of societally-praised femininity and professional ability allows her to be the first woman in Esther's life she feels she can fully connect with. Nolan administers shock therapy to Esther and does it correctly, which leads to positive results.
  • Doctor Gordon is the first doctor Esther encounters. Self-obsessed and patronizing, he subjects her to traumatic shock treatments that haunt her for the rest of her time in medical care.
  • Mrs. Greenwood, Esther's mother, loves her daughter but is constantly urging Esther to mold to society's ideal of white, middle-class womanhood, from which Esther feels a complete disconnection.
  • Buddy Willard is Esther's former boyfriend from her hometown. Studying to become a doctor, Buddy wants a wife who mirrors his mother, and hopes Esther will be that for him. Esther adores him throughout high school, but upon learning he is not a virgin loses respect for him and names him a hypocrite. She struggles with ending the relationship after Buddy is diagnosed with tuberculosis. He eventually proposes to her, but Esther refuses due to the decision that she will never marry, to which Buddy responds that she is crazy.
  • Mrs. Willard, Buddy Willard's mother, is a dedicated homemaker who is determined to have Buddy and Esther marry.
  • Mr. Willard, Buddy Willard's father and Mrs. Willard's husband, is a good family friend.
  • Constantin, a simultaneous interpreter with a foreign accent, takes Esther on a date while they are both in New York. They return to his apartment and Esther contemplates giving her virginity to him, but in the end decides against it.
  • Irwin is a tall but rather ugly young man, to whom Esther gives her virginity, which causes her to hemorrhage. He is a "very well-paid professor of mathematics" and invites Esther to have coffee, which leads to her having sex with him, which leads to Esther having to go to the hospital to get help to stop the bleeding.
  • Jay Cee is Esther's strict boss, who is very intelligent, so "her plug-ugly looks didn't seem to matter".[3] She is responsible for editing Esther's work.
  • Lenny Shepherd, a wealthy young man living in New York, invites Doreen and Esther for drinks while they are on their way to a party. Doreen and Lenny start dating, taking Doreen away from Esther more often.
  • Philomena Guinea, a wealthy elderly lady, was the person who donated the money for Esther's college scholarship. Esther's college requires each girl who is on scholarship to write a letter to her benefactor, thanking him or her. Philomena invites Esther to have a meal with her. At one point, she was also in an asylum herself, and pays for the "upscale" asylum that Esther stays in.
  • Marco, a Peruvian man and friend of Lenny Shepherd, is set up to take Esther to a party and ends up attempting to rape her.
  • Betsy, a wealthier girl from the magazine, is a "good" girl from Kansas whom Esther strives to be more like. She serves as the opposite to Doreen, and Esther finds herself torn between the two behavioral and personality extremes.
  • Hilda is another girl from the magazine, who is generally disliked by Esther after making negative comments about the Rosenbergs.

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