Esther Greenwood – The protagonist and narrator of the novel, she has
just finished her junior year of college. Esther grew up in the
Boston suburbs with her mother and brother. Her father died when
she was nine years old. Esther is attractive, talented, and lucky,
but uncertainty plagues her, and she feels a disturbing sense of unreality.Read an
in-depth analysis of Esther Greenwood.
Mrs. Greenwood – Esther’s
mother, she has had a difficult life. Mrs. Greenwood lost her husband
when her children were still young. Because her husband had inadequate life
insurance, she struggles to make a living by teaching typing and
shorthand. Practical and traditional, she loves Esther and worries
about her future, but cannot understand her.Read an
in-depth analysis of Mrs. Greenwood.
Buddy Willard – Esther’s
college boyfriend, he is an athletic, intelligent, good-looking
man who graduated from Yale and went to medical school. Buddy cares
for Esther but has conventional ideas about women’s roles and fails
to understand Esther’s interest in poetry. He represents everything
that, according to society, Esther should want but does not.Read an
in-depth analysis of Buddy Willard.
Doctor Nolan – Esther’s
psychiatrist at the private mental hospital. Esther comes to trust
and love Dr. Nolan, who acts as a kind and understanding surrogate
mother. Progressive and unconventional, Dr. Nolan encourages Esther’s unusual
Doreen – Esther’s
companion in New York, a blond, beautiful southern girl with a sharp
tongue. Esther envies Doreen’s nonchalance in social situations,
and the two share a witty, cynical perspective on their position
as guest editors for a fashion magazine. Doreen represents a rebellion
against societal convention that Esther admires but cannot entirely
Joan Gilling – Esther’s
companion in the mental hospital. A large, horsy woman, Joan was
a year ahead of Esther in college, and Esther envied her social
and athletic success. Joan once dated Buddy, Esther’s boyfriend.
In the mental ward, Esther comes to think of Joan as her double,
someone with similar experiences to Esther’s whom Esther does not
particularly like, but with whom she feels an affinity.
Jay Cee – Esther’s
boss at the magazine, an ambitious career woman who encourages Esther
to be ambitious. She is physically unattractive, but moves self-confidently
in her world. She treats Esther brusquely but kindly.
Betsy – A
pretty, wholesome girl from Kansas who becomes Esther’s friend when
they both work at the magazine. Esther feels she is more like Betsy
than she is like Doreen, but she cannot relate to Betsy’s cheerfulness and
Constantin – A
UN simultaneous interpreter who takes Esther on a date. Handsome,
thoughtful, and accomplished, he seems sexually uninterested in
Esther, who is willing to let him seduce her.
Marco – A
tall, dark, well-dressed Peruvian who takes Esther on a date to
a country club. Marco expresses dashing self-confidence, but also
a hatred of women. Violent and sadistic, he believes that all women
Irwin – Esther’s
first lover, he is a tall, intelligent, homely math professor at
Harvard. Irwin is charming and seductive but not particularly responsible
Doctor Gordon – Esther’s
first psychiatrist, whom she distrusts.
He is good-looking and has an attractive family, and Esther thinks
him conceited. He does not know how
to help Esther, and ends up doing her more harm
Philomena Guinea – A famous, wealthy novelist who gives Esther a scholarship
to attend college and pays for Esther’s stay in the private mental
hospital. She is elderly, generous, and successful.
Mrs. Willard – A
friend of Esther’s mother and the mother of Esther’s sometime-boyfriend,
Buddy Willard. Mrs. Willard, who feels protective of her son, has
traditional ideas about the roles men and women should play.
Lenny Shepherd – Doreen’s
love interest, Lenny is a New York DJ and smooth older man. He wears
cowboy-style clothes and has a cowboy-style home.
Eric – A
past acquaintance of Esther’s with whom she had her most open conversation
about sex. He is a southern prep school boy who lost his virginity
with a prostitute and now associates love with chastity and sex
with behaving like an animal.
Dodo Conway – The
Greenwoods’ neighbor, Dodo is a Catholic woman with six children
and a seventh on the way. She lives unconventionally, but everyone
Jody – A
friend of Esther’s, with whom she is supposed
to live while she takes a summer writing course.
Jody is friendly and tries to be helpful, but cannot
Valerie – A
friend of Esther’s in the private mental
hospital. Valerie has had a lobotomy, and is friendly and relaxed.