The Bell Jar Characters

The Bell Jar characters

Q. What are the major and minor characters in the novel The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath?

The Bell Jar Characters

Esther Greenwood

A talented and promising college student, Esther struggles with personal ambitions. Despite her academic success and initial career achievements, she is enveloped by mental illness during an internship in New York.

She is the protagonist in the novel The Bell Jar. Her journey through depression leads to a suicide attempt, followed by a period of recovery in a mental institution.

she explores her identity and confronts her fears and desires, emerging more aware but still cautious about her future.

Mrs. Greenwood

Esther’s mother, a widow who teaches shorthand to support her family. She exhibits a practical and reserved demeanor, often unable to connect deeply with Esther’s emotional needs.

Her responses to Esther’s illness are tinged with denial and a lack of understanding of its severity, reflecting the broader societal stigma around mental health issues.

Buddy Willard

Esther’s boyfriend, Buddy, is initially portrayed as self-assured and successful, a medical student with traditional views on relationships and gender roles.

His revelation of a past affair and subsequent contraction of tuberculosis begin to unravel his idealized image, leading to Esther’s disenchantment and their eventual breakup.

Joan Gilling

A former acquaintance from college who later becomes a significant figure in the asylum alongside Esther.

Joan’s trajectory parallels Esther’s in many ways, but her path diverges tragically as she ultimately takes her own life. Her character challenges Esther’s perceptions of strength and vulnerability.

Dr. Nolan

A psychiatrist at the private asylum, Dr. Nolan plays a crucial role in Esther’s treatment. Her approach, marked by empathy and understanding, helps Esther confront her traumas and fears, facilitating a crucial part of her recovery. Dr. Nolan’s support is pivotal in Esther’s journey toward mental stability.

Philomena Guinea

Philomena, a successful writer and Esther’s benefactor, funds Esther’s education and later her stay in the private asylum.

Her own history of mental illness mirrors the challenges Esther faces, highlighting the cyclical and pervasive nature of these struggles within the context of high achievement and societal pressure.


One of the more vivid characters Esther meets during her internship, Doreen, contrasts Esther’s more cautious nature. Doreen is bold and charismatic and unapologetically indulges in the pleasures of life, including nightlife and romantic escapades.

Her friendship offers Esther a glimpse of a less conventional approach to life, though Esther ultimately decides she does not fully align with Doreen’s disregard for consequences.

Jay Cee

During her internship, Esther’s boss at the magazine, Jay Cee, is sharp, intelligent, and demanding. She pushes Esther to achieve her potential and provides tough, intimidating, and motivating love.

Jay Cee’s high standards and intense work ethic reflect the pressures and challenges Esther faces in her own aspirations.

Minor Characters 

Dr. Gordon

The first psychiatrist Esther visits prescribes the electroconvulsive therapy that is improperly administered. His lack of empathy and understanding significantly worsens Esther’s mental state.

Dr. Gordon represents the clinical and detached approach to mental health care that fails to address the patient’s deeper emotional and psychological needs.


A mathematics professor Esther meets and decides to lose her virginity to. Irwin is portrayed as intelligent but emotionally detached, and their encounter leads to a traumatic experience for Esther, complicating her views on sexual relationships and contributing to her emotional turmoil.


Esther meets a simultaneous interpreter in New York. Their date provides a moment of intimacy and connection for Esther, though it remains platonic.

Constantin’s sophisticated demeanor and foreign background add to the allure of New York’s diverse social landscape for Esther.

Mrs. Willard

Buddy Willard’s mother is a model of traditional womanhood. She advocates for conservative values regarding marriage and sexuality, which starkly contrast with Esther’s growing feminist sensibilities and contribute to Esther’s rejection of traditional paths.


A fellow patient at the asylum who has undergone a lobotomy. Valerie’s contentment and lack of emotional depth following her procedure contrast with Esther’s intense internal struggle and fear of losing her own sharpness and individuality.

Dee Dee

Another patient at the asylum is involved romantically with Joan. Her relationship with Joan provides a subplot that explores themes of sexuality and identity, offering a counter-narrative to the conventional relationships Esther has observed.

Mrs. Tomolillo

Mrs. Tomolillo is a woman Esther watches give birth at Buddy’s medical school. Later, Esther believes she reencounters her as a person with a mental health condition at the city hospital.

Lenny Shepherd

Lenny is a disc jockey and Doreen’s boyfriend during their time in New York. He embodies the city’s fast-paced, hedonistic lifestyle that fascinates and repels Esther.

Miss Norris

A polite but mute patient at the private asylum, Miss Norris fascinates Esther with her silence and seeming detachment from the surrounding chaos, representing the extreme withdrawal some undergo in response to mental illness.

Mrs. Mole

Mrs. Mole is an unruly patient at the city hospital. Her behavior and the handling of her case by the staff reflect the dehumanizing aspects of mental health treatment in less compassionate environments.

Esther’s Brother

Esther’s younger brother, who is studying in Germany during Esther’s descent into depression, represents the everyday life and expectations of success that Esther feels pressured to uphold.


Jody is Esther’s old friend from college, representing a link to a more innocent time before Esther’s mental health issues dominated her life.

The Sailor

A sailor who flirts with Esther in Boston, offering a brief and superficial romantic encounter, contrasting with the deeper and more complex relationships Esther navigates throughout her story.

Miss Huey

The administrator of Esther’s electric shock therapy at the private asylum, Miss Huey, symbolizes the impersonal and clinical side of psychiatric treatment that Esther finds so terrifying.

The New Black Attendant

An attendant at the city hospital, his interactions with Esther, including a moment where Esther kicks him, show her struggling with aggression and the implications of her mental state on her behavior.


Frankie is the short man Lenny Shepherd tries to set up with Esther, further emphasizing the social and romantic entanglements she finds herself navigating in New York.


A peer of Buddy’s at medical school who delivers Mrs. Tomolillo’s baby represents the clinical and detached approach of many within the medical profession, which contrasts with the personal crises Esther faces.


The Cape Cod waitress with whom Buddy had an affair. This revelation shatters Esther’s image of Buddy and contributes to her disillusionment with traditional romantic relationships.


The professor of the chemistry course Esther arranges to audit at college, reflecting her attempt to broaden her academic horizons and find stability in education.

The Night Nurse

The night nurse at the private asylum embodies the often-unseen support structures within psychiatric care facilities.


A nurse at the private asylum who interacts with Esther, representing the day-to-day care and supervision provided in mental health facilities.


Jody’s boyfriend is a peripheral character in the broader social circle that influences Esther’s life.


A boy Jody tries to set Esther up with symbolizes the societal expectations for young women to engage in romantic and social activities.


A child who nags Esther on the beach, embodying innocence and the mundane concerns of everyday life.

George Bakewell

George is a distant acquaintance who visits Esther in the hospital. Now, as a doctor, Esther perceives George as merely curious about her condition rather than genuinely caring, highlighting her isolation and the curiosity others have about her situation.