The Bell Jar Characters to the Main Characters of Sylvia Plath’s Novel

The Bell Jar Characters to the Main Characters of Sylvia Plath's Novel

In Sylvia Plath’s novel “The Bell Jar,” readers are introduced to a list of characters who each play a significant role in the protagonist Esther Greenwood’s life. From her fellow patients at the asylum she is sent to, to her friends and acquaintances, these characters contribute to the overall narrative and provide insight into Esther’s journey.

One of the characters who sparks Esther’s interest is Dodo Conway, a mother of many children who manages to work and take care of her family. Esther is in awe of Dodo’s ability to balance both her family life and her work, and she often finds herself making comparisons between them.

Another memorable character in the novel is Doreen, Esther’s vivacious and wild friend. Doreen is a marked contrast to the timid and intelligent Esther, and her reckless behavior often leads them both into dangerous situations. Despite their differences, Doreen becomes an important confidante for Esther, who sees her as a sort of mentor in navigating the complexities of womanhood.

Esther also forms a bond with Lenny Shepherd, an aggressive and seemingly heartless male character. While their relationship is initially limited to an hour-long encounter in a park, Esther is both intrigued and repelled by Lenny’s aggressive nature. She attempts to rationalize their connection but ultimately realizes that their personalities are too opposite to sustain any real connection.

Among the other characters in the novel are Buddy Willard, Esther’s jaded ex-boyfriend; Jay Cee, Esther’s mentor and editor at the magazine she interned for; and Mr. and Mrs. Guinea, wealthy benefactors who offer Esther various opportunities. Each of these characters contributes to Esther’s growth and unveils different aspects of her personality.

Throughout the novel, readers also encounter a host of other characters, from the women at the asylum where Esther is admitted, including Joan and the women at the Bellview Hospital, to the nurses and waitresses like Hilda, Mrs. Manzi, and Marco. These characters serve as a backdrop to Esther’s experiences and provide a glimpse into the struggles faced by women during that time.

Without these diverse and dynamic characters, “The Bell Jar” would not be the powerful and thought-provoking novel it is known to be. Plath’s skillful creation of these characters allows readers to delve into the complexities of Esther Greenwood’s world and encourages us to reflect on the universal themes of identity, relationships, and the pressures society places on young women.

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The Bell Jar Characters

Esther Greenwood

Esther is a young and intelligent woman who struggles with her identity and finding her place in the world. She is an aspiring writer who feels overwhelmed by societal expectations and the limitations placed upon her gender.


Doreen is Esther’s friend who is more outgoing and rebellious. She is seen as a wild and unpredictable character, often getting into trouble. Despite her wild behavior, Doreen is intelligent and perceptive.

Dr. Nolan

Dr. Nolan is Esther’s psychiatrist who attempts to help her navigate her mental health struggles. She provides guidance and support for Esther as she tries to overcome the challenges she faces.

Buddy Willard

Buddy is a young man who Esther has a complicated relationship with. He is depicted as someone who tries to please others and conform to societal expectations, but also has his own inner struggles.

Joan Gilling

Joan is another patient at the psychiatric facility where Esther is treated. She becomes friends with Esther and they bond over their shared experiences. Joan is portrayed as a kind and supportive character.


Marco is a young man who Esther meets during her summer internship. She is attracted to him, but their relationship is short-lived and ends in disappointment.


Betsy is another intern who befriends Esther. She is described as a sweet and innocent character, contrasting with some of the wilder characters in the novel.

Mrs. Greenwood

Mrs. Greenwood is Esther’s mother who is concerned about her daughter’s wellbeing. She tries her best to support Esther, but often finds herself at a loss when it comes to understanding her daughter’s struggles.

Dr. Quinn

Dr. Quinn is the doctor who first treats Esther when she is admitted to the psych ward. He is depicted as a caring and understanding physician.

Mr. and Mrs. Willard

Mr. and Mrs. Willard are Buddy’s parents who Esther meets. They come from a conservative background and their views clash with Esther’s more progressive ideas.

These are just a few of the many characters in “The Bell Jar” who contribute to the overall story. Each character brings their own unique perspective and experiences to the narrative, making it a rich and complex exploration of mental health, gender expectations, and personal identity.


Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. Harper & Row, 1963.

A Comprehensive Guide to the Main Characters of Sylvia Plath’s Novel

Esther’s relationships with the other characters in the novel play a significant role in her journey. Her best friend is Doreen, a confident and rebellious young woman who comes from a wealthy family. Doreen is a constant source of both admiration and frustration for Esther, as she represents a lifestyle that Esther both desires and resents.

Buddy Willard is Esther’s ex-boyfriend and a central figure in her life. He is portrayed as a handsome and intelligent young man, but he also has a dark side. Despite his apparent perfection, Buddy struggles with his own mental health issues and comes to represent the limitations and expectations placed on women in society.

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Another important character is Joan Giling, a friend of Esther’s from the mental institution where she is hospitalized. Joan is confident and assertive, and she becomes a source of inspiration for Esther. However, their friendship becomes complicated as Esther begins to feel jealous of Joan’s progress and success.

Other notable characters in the novel include:

  • Dodo Conway: A neighbor of Esther’s who is a constant reminder of the societal pressure to marry and have children.
  • Dr. Nolan: Esther’s psychiatrist at the private mental institution, Caplan.
  • Mr. Willard: Buddy’s father and a prominent figure in Esther’s life.
  • Marco: A man Esther meets during her summer job in New York City and has a brief fling with.
  • Hilda and Jay: Esther’s college friends who she meets up with during her summer in New York.
  • Philomena Guinea: A successful writer who sponsors Esther’s time at Caplan.
  • Mrs. Greenwood: Esther’s mother, who is often overprotective and concerned about her daughter’s well-being.

Each character in “The Bell Jar” contributes to the overall narrative and themes of the novel. Plath’s portrayal of these characters explores the complexities of mental health, relationships, and gender roles in society.

Dr Quinn, Mrs Greenwood, Joan Giling

Mrs. Greenwood, or Philomena Guinea, is a wealthy benefactor who pays for Esther’s stay at the Bellview Hospital. She is intelligent and cares deeply about Esther’s well-being.

Joan Giling is a friend of Esther’s from college who is also admitted to the Bellview Hospital. Joan is a quiet and timid character who forms a close relationship with Esther during their time together at the hospital.

Esther sees Dr Quinn as a character in her novel and often tries to write about their interactions. However, she finds it difficult to fully capture his aggressive nature in her work.

Esther also has relationships with other women in the hospital, such as Doreen and Betsy. Doreen is the opposite of Esther in many ways – she is more outgoing and enjoys attention from men. Betsy, on the other hand, is a more reserved and religious character.

Mrs Greenwood attempts to help Esther by finding her a job as a waitress, but Esther finds the work limited and unfulfilling. She also has a brief encounter with a man named Marco who takes her for a ride in his car.

Joan Giling later comes back into Esther’s life after they are both discharged from the hospital. Esther finds Joan to be even more timid and distant than before, and their relationship becomes strained.

Buddy Willard, Esther, Philomena Guinea

Esther is the protagonist of the novel, a young woman named Esther Greenwood. She is a talented and ambitious writer who struggles with her mental health throughout the story. Esther is in constant conflict with society’s expectations for women, and her experiences in New York City only amplify her feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction. She sees the bell jar as a metaphor for the suffocating pressures and expectations placed on women in the 1950s.

Philomena Guinea is a wealthy and influential woman who becomes a mentor to Esther. She is the person who provides the financial support for Esther’s stay at a private psychiatric institution called the Belview. Her character represents the limited opportunities available to women and the power dynamics that exist in society.

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Mrs Ockenden, Hilda, Dodo Conway, Jay Cee

Hilda is a high school friend of Esther’s who she meets again during her summer internship at Ladies’ Day. Hilda is shocked when Esther tells her about the electroshock therapy treatment she received.

Dodo Conway is a neighbor in the New York City apartment building where the women from Esther’s college live during the summer. She has a husband and many children and seems to be the embodiment of domestic bliss that Esther cannot achieve.

Jay Cee is Esther’s boss at Ladies’ Day. She is an intelligent and ambitious woman who encourages Esther’s writing and assigns her to work on a special poetry list. She takes a special interest in Esther and even offers her a scholarship to an exclusive summer writing program.

Cal, Dr Nolan, Lenny Shepherd, George Bakewell


Cal Quinn is one of Esther’s fellow patients at the psychiatric institution. Esther forms a close relationship with Cal during her time at the facility. Cal is intelligent and compassionate, and his presence provides Esther with comfort and a sense of camaraderie. He takes a genuine interest in Esther’s well-being and often acts as a supportive figure throughout the story.

Dr Nolan

Dr. Nolan is Esther’s psychiatrist and plays a crucial role in her recovery. She is a no-nonsense, experienced physician who genuinely cares about her patients. Dr. Nolan shows concern for Esther’s mental health and helps guide her through various therapy sessions, providing a sense of stability and hope in Esther’s life.

Lenny Shepherd

Lenny Shepherd is a male character Esther meets during a summer internship in New York City. Lenny is aggressive and manipulative, and his presence contrasts with Esther’s timid nature. Despite his negative traits, Esther becomes romantically involved with Lenny, drawn to the excitement and unpredictability he offers. Their relationship ultimately turns sour, leading to Esther’s mental decline.

George Bakewell

George Bakewell is a young man Esther meets while working as an intern at Ladies’ Day magazine. George is one of the few male characters Esther encounters in her predominantly female-dominated world. He is intelligent, articulate, and shares a mutual interest in writing with Esther. Their friendship blossoms into a romantic relationship, offering a glimpse of stability and support in Esther’s turbulent life.


Who are the main characters in The Bell Jar?

The main characters in The Bell Jar include Esther, Buddy Willard, Dr Nolan, Jay Cee, Hilda, Joan Giling, Doreen, Irwin, Mr Manzi, Constantin, Mrs Ockenden, Mrs Greenwood, Jody, Lenny Shepherd, Cal, Marco, Dodo Conway, Mrs Savage, Dr Quinn, George Bakewell, Philomena Guinea, Dr Gordon, and Betsy.

What is the role of Dr Nolan in The Bell Jar?

Dr Nolan is Esther’s psychiatrist in The Bell Jar. She plays a significant role in helping Esther recover from her mental breakdown and navigate her way through treatment. Dr Nolan provides support, guidance, and therapy to Esther throughout the novel.

How does Buddy Willard contribute to the story?

Buddy Willard is Esther’s former boyfriend and plays an important role in the novel. He represents societal expectations and pressures placed on women during the 1950s. Buddy’s hypocrisy and lack of understanding contribute to Esther’s spiral into depression and ultimately her suicidal thoughts.

Who is Mrs Greenwood in The Bell Jar?

Mrs Greenwood is Esther’s mother. While she doesn’t play a major role in the novel, her presence and influence are evident throughout Esther’s struggle with her mental health. Mrs Greenwood represents the societal expectations of women and contributes to Esther’s feeling of being trapped and unfulfilled.

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