The Bell Jar Characters

The novel by Sylvia Plath introduces many characters to the reader. In The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood, her mother, and Buddy Willard are the main characters. They meet with two doctors (Dr. Gordon and Dr. Nolan), several of Esther’s boyfriends (Marco, Constantin, and Irwin), and some of Esther’s friends (Doreen and Joan Gilling).

If you’re looking for information on The Bell Jar characters, you’re in the right place. Esther Greenwood, Buddy Willard, Philomena Guinea, as well as many others are described in this article by experts. Below you’ll find The Bell Jar character map together with detailed descriptions of the main characters illustrated with the quotes from the novel.

🗺️ The Bell Jar Character Map

Below you’ll find The Bell Jar character map. It contains all the key characters that appear in the novel.

The picture contains The Bell jar character map with all the novel's main characters and their relationships.

👩 Esther Greenwood

Esther is a 19-year-old college student who wins an internship at a fashion magazine in the novel’s beginning. She dreams of becoming a professional poet. Before leaving for New York for the training as a guest editor, she applies for a literature course. On her return, Esther learns she was not accepted. The news, like other grim events like the attempted rape and the execution of the Rosenbergs, throw her into depression.

The protagonist is self-critical and describes her suicidal attempts in all detail. Her character analysis gives us a chance to see how a person in depression thinks and acts and why they do so.

As her illness progresses, Esther becomes an unreliable narrator. The reader learns about her mother’s grief when Esther attempted to kill herself from newspaper clippings and Joan’s story. She does not see other people’s love for her. Esther grows to be selfish and narrow-minded. She throws the flowers her mother brought into the trash bin, saying they would be suitable for her funeral.

But we understand that these unpleasant traits are the manifestations of her disease. She did not decide to be rude. The protagonist needs treatment and care. After all, the world was not a happy place to live for her. Esther was a middle-class, educated young lady. Still, all the men she met highlighted their superiority over her. She felt social pressure to create a family but understood that it would ruin her ambitions.

Esther wanted to become “everything,” as Jay Cee remarked, but society expected her to become nothing but a wife. Esther’s prospect for the future did not fit in real life. She wanted to become equal to men, at least by having the same right to sex before marriage. The experience proved to be painful and far from pleasant. But Esther had no other way to prove herself she was no worse than an ordinary male person.  

Esther Greenwood’s Quotes from The Bell Jar

I lay in that tub on the seventeenth floor of this hotel for-women-only, high up over the jazz and push of New York, for near on to an hour, and I felt myself growing pure again.

The Bell Jar, chapter 2

I remember the day [Buddy] smiled at me and said, “Do you know what a poem is, Esther?’ ‘No, what?’ I said. ‘A piece of dust.’ And he looked so proud of having thought of this that I just stared at his blond hair and his blue eyes and his white teeth—he had very long, strong white teeth—and said ‘I guess so’.

The Bell Jar, chapter 5

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.

The Bell Jar, chapter 7

If Mrs Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat… I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.

The Bell Jar, chapter 15

I wondered how much I would bleed, and lay down, nursing the towel… I couldn’t possibly be a virgin any more. I smiled into the dark. I felt part of a great tradition.

The Bell Jar, chapter 19

👵 Mrs. Greenwood

Esther’s mother is not as bad as Esther thinks of her. Mrs. Greenwood lost her husband when her daughter was at the age of nine and did her best to raise her and give her proper education. Most likely, her marriage with Mr. Greenwood lacked love. When he died, Mrs. Greenwood started teaching shorthand to other women. This fact disturbed Esther as she despised the need to write down what men dictate and wanted to write her own thoughts.

Mrs. Greenwood educated Esther to fit in the ideal image of an American woman in the 1950s. For this reason, Esther hated her. Mrs. Greenwood did not seriously perceive her daughter’s literary aspirations. Nor did she understand the nature of her mental illness. She thought that Esther had behavioral problems and merely needed to “decide” to become normal.

In a word, Esther’s mother does not understand her. This fact urges Esther to seek maternal love in Jay Cee in Dr. Nolan, the strong and self-sufficient women she wanted to associate with.

Mrs. Greenwood’s Quotes from The Bell Jar

I think I should tell you right away… you didn’t make that writing course.

The Bell Jar, chapter 10

Doctor Gordon doesn’t think you’ve improved at all. He thinks you should have some shock treatments at his private hospital in Walton.

The Bell Jar, chapter 11

I knew my baby wasn’t like… those awful people. Those awful dead people at that hospital.

The Bell Jar, chapter 12

You should have behaved better, then.

The Bell Jar, chapter 14

Oh, Esther, I wish you would co-operate. They say you don’t co-operate. They say you won’t talk to any of the doctors or make anything in Occupational Therapy…

The Bell Jar, chapter 14

👱 Buddy Willard

Buddy is a dream boyfriend any girl would like to have. Esther also dreamed of dating him until she got to know him better. Buddy is handsome and intelligent (he studies at the medical school of Yale). He takes Esther to see corpses and a baby being born and mocks on her love for poetry.

Buddy may love her in his own way, but he is too self-centered to care for Esther and her moral needs. In their conversations, he always tries to sound superior to her, more logical, and more scientific. He says Esther is neurotic because she wants mutually exclusive things.

For him, Esther is just a girl who can become his wife and mother of his children. He does not suppose any sexual desire in her. Buddy seems to distinguish between women for love and women for marriage. He is a born and bred sexist, just like his mother.

Buddy Willard’s Quotes from The Bell Jar

Oh, I like Joan. She never cares whether you spend any money on her or not and she enjoys doing things out-of-doors.

The Bell Jar, chapter 5

Do you know what a poem is, Esther? A piece of dust.

The Bell Jar, chapter 5

Mother asked me about Gladys… I said Gladys was free, white and twenty-one.

The Bell Jar, chapter 6

🎭 Other Characters in The Bell Jar


Doreen is Esther’s closest friend during her internship in New York. She is a voluptuous beauty who freely seeks relationships with men. Esther wants to be like her but lacks Doreen’s carelessness about social conventions.

Philomena Guinea

She is Esther’s role model and sponsor. Philomena paid for her college and psychiatric asylum. She was a famous and wealthy writer, which was Esther’s dream career. But she wrote low-quality romance novels, so Esther could not feel a deep connection with Philomena.

Joan Gilling

Joan is Esther’s “second self.” They both dated Buddy, tried to kill themselves, and received treatment at the same institution. But there are some differences. Joan is a lesbian, and Esther rejects her. Why did Joan kill herself, and Esther did not? The novel does not directly answer this question. Probably, the minor character could not live realizing that Esther did not want her but agreed to sleep with a stranger. Or she was shocked by Esther’s bleeding. Alternatively, the author hinted that the same could have happened to Esther had she been more decisive.

Dr. Gordon

He was the first and the worst possible doctor Esther visited after her suicide attempt. He thought that all that depression was in her head and did not pay much attention to their conversations. He had the walls in his office covered with certificates. On his table, there was an impeccable photo of his family (wife and children). He symbolizes the patriarchy in the novel, uncaring and indifferent. He incorrectly uses electric shock therapy on Esther as if to punish her for something.

Dr. Nolan

She is a contrasting figure to Dr. Gordon. Her methods are wise and thoughtful. She quickly understood that Esther’s hatred toward her mother contributed to her depressive episode. Dr. Nolan plays a motherly figure in the novel as Jay Cee does.


The “woman-hater” is an abusive and unpleasant young man. Marco loves his cousin, who is to become a nun. He tries to rape Esther to punish her for her sincere suggestion that he will find another person to love.


He is an interpreter at the UN. Constantin is not an American, which makes him attractive to Esther. She thinks he has some “intuition.” Esther even plans to let him seduce her, but they just go asleep together.


Irwin is the person with who Esther had sex for the first time. She met him at the stairs of Harward library when she had a day off from the asylum. After their night, Esther had unstoppable bleeding. Irwin wanted to meet her again, but she refused.

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🔗 References

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