Esther Greenwood - “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath

A Comprehensive Analysis of Literary Protagonists - Sykalo Evgen 2023

Esther Greenwood - “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath

Esther Greenwood's Complicated Journey in Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar"

Sylvia Plath's groundbreaking novel "The Bell Jar" explores the intricacies of the human psyche, and its protagonist, Esther Greenwood, is a moving and intriguing figure. Plath crafts a story that tackles issues of identity, mental health, and the demands society placed on women in the 1950s, greatly influenced by her own experiences. The young and gifted Esther Greenwood serves as the main character that these themes are explored through. Through a thorough examination of Esther's motivations, personality, and obstacles, this character analysis will provide readers a clear picture of her place in the narrative.

Determine the Type of Character

Throughout the story, the lively character Esther Greenwood has a significant metamorphosis. She comes across as a bright, aspirational young woman at first, but as the narrative goes on, her mental state worsens and she begins to view the world very differently. Plath is able to examine the effects of societal expectations and mental health difficulties on an individual because of Esther's dynamic character.

Consider the Character's Place in the Narrative

The protagonist of the book is Esther Greenwood, who leads readers on a turbulent journey of self-discovery. As the story progresses, wider societal issues are analyzed through the prism of Esther's emotional conflicts. Her experiences shone light on the 1950s' restrictive expectations placed on women as well as oppressive gender stereotypes. The primary ideas and messages of the book are largely communicated through Esther's position.

Analyze the Past of the Character

Knowing Esther's past is essential to comprehending her personality. She is aspirational and academically brilliant, and she comes from a suburban background. Her background does, however, also impose the pressures of society to adhere to gender norms and expectations. Esther's upbringing and educational background have shaped her personality and contributed to the psychological struggles she faces.

Personality Characteristics

Numerous personality qualities are displayed by Esther Greenwood, and these traits change as the novel progresses. She is initially motivated, aspirational, and focused on success. Darker aspects do, however, surface as she deals with the difficulties of both her own mental health problems and society expectations. Esther struggles with a feeling of emptiness and grows cynical and disillusioned. By deftly capturing both the good and bad aspects of Esther's nature, Plath develops a multifaceted character.


- From the opening lines of the book, Esther makes clear how determined she is to achieve her goals: "I wanted to write and I wanted to be at the center of the whirlwind."
- The more depressed Esther gets, the more pessimistic her viewpoint becomes: "The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it."

Motivators and Objectives

Esther experiences a profound shift in her objectives and motives. She first tries to live up to the standards of success and achievement set by society. But as she struggles with mental health issues, Esther's main concern shifts to survival. Her internal battle for self-preservation and comprehension replaces her external affirmation.

Difficulties and Conflicts

Esther's character arc is shaped by the internal and external difficulties she encounters. She fights mental health problems on the inside, battling feelings of alienation and melancholy. External demands from society, particularly those pertaining to gender norms, give rise to difficulties that Esther has to resolve. Her struggles to overcome them and discover her identity and purpose are chronicled in the novel.


Relationships are very important to Esther's growth. Her relationships with other characters, including mentor Jay Cee and friend Doreen, shed light on the expectations society has of women. Esther feels alone because of her mother's tense relationship and her unfulfilled romantic dreams. Her changing sense of who she is and where she fits in the world is sparked by these relationships.

Archetypes and Symbolism

One could see Esther as a representation of the "troubled artist" or the "searching soul" archetype. The bell jar itself takes on significant symbolic meaning as it comes to symbolize Esther's loneliness and sense of suffocation. The title of the book captures Esther's metaphorical cage, emphasizing the limitations imposed by society and her mental health issues.

Character Story

The journey from idealistic desire to a terrifying decline into mental illness and, finally, a shaky sense of recovery, characterizes Esther's story arc. Her failed relationships, her internship in New York, and her electroconvulsive therapy are some of the events that shape her storyline. Esther's perception of the world and herself is shaped by each of these encounters.

Speech and Conversation

For Esther, Plath uses a unique narrative voice that captures her inner torment. Esther's language changes to reflect her changing emotional state. She is fluent and determined at first, but as her sadness sets in, her speech becomes jumbled and erratic. The emotional depth of Esther's character is enhanced by the use of metaphorical language and evocative imagery.


- Esther uses exact words when she speaks clearly: "The silence depressed me." It was not the quiet of quiet. It was my own quiet."
- Esther's words become disjointed as her mental state worsens: "I am I am I am."

Historical and Cultural Background

Interpreting Esther's experiences requires an understanding of the historical and cultural milieu of the 1950s. The stigma associated with mental health problems and the expectations society placed on women during this time period add to Esther's difficulties. The story of Plath reflects the social pressures and gender standards that were common in the years following World War II.

Analytical Angles

Reviewers of literature and academics have presented differing viewpoints regarding Esther Greenwood and "The Bell Jar." Some highlight the autobiographical aspects of Plath's writing, equating her personal hardships with Esther. Others concentrate on the feminist overtones, examining how Esther's tale challenges the expectations society has of women. Taking these viewpoints into account enhances the character analysis's depth.

Arrange Your Thought Process

The debate can be arranged chronologically or thematically to guarantee a cogent interpretation. A chronological structure might trace Esther's journey through the book, while a thematic approach could focus on other facets including her relationships, inner struggles, and expectations from society.

Offer Proof

A thorough character study must provide quotes and textual situations to back their observations. The analysis is supported and a tangible basis for comprehending Esther's character is provided by quoting her thoughts, conversations, and exchanges with other characters.

In summary

The role played by Esther Greenwood in "The Bell Jar" delves deeply into the implications of mental health issues, society expectations, and the human psyche. By crafting Esther, Sylvia Plath encourages readers to explore the intricacies of identity and the difficulties experienced by women in the middle of the 20th century. Through a thorough examination of Esther's past, personality traits, motivations, conflicts, and relationships, this analysis aims to highlight the novel's greater themes and reveal the complexities of Esther's character. Despite its gloomy moments, Esther's journey ultimately provides a glimpse of resilience and the possibility of self-discovery amidst the pressures of society expectations.