Describe Esther's relationship with her mother in The Bell Jar.

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In The Bell Jar, Esther’s relationship with her mother is complicated. On the one hand, Mrs. Greenwood loves her daughter, and Esther in turn worries about her mother. At the same time, Esther blames her mother for her mental health problems. She eventually tells her doctor that she hates her.

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Esther’s mom clearly means well, but at no point does she give the impression that she fully understands her or what she’s going through. Mrs. Greenwood is very much a traditionalist when it comes to raising children and is convinced that the tried and tested ways will help reclaim Esther from the grip of madness and get her life back on track.

Mrs. Greenwood unthinkingly subscribes to the traditional role of women in society and thinks that everything will turn out just fine for her daughter if she follows the path that other women of her age are expected to follow. Among other things, this means that Esther must guard her virginity; she must also learn to write shorthand so that she can find work as a secretary.

Esther understands that her mother only has her best interests at heart. But at the same time, she cannot help but apportion blame to Mrs. Greenwood for the various mental health issues with which she has to deal.

In fact, Esther’s feelings toward her are even more negative than that. During a meeting with her doctor, Esther comes flat out and tells him that she hates her mother. As a result of this candid confession, the doctors recommend that she should stay in the hospital until the beginning of the winter college term rather than go home and live with her mother.

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Mrs. Greenwood is described as an emotionally detached mother who favors practicality over feeling. Esther is fundamentally different than her mother, craving the emotional warmth her mother lacks and which she had received from her father before his untimely death. Additionally, Mrs. Greenwood's resentment toward her late husband serves as a point of contention with Esther; she doesn't recall her mother crying after he died, and Mrs. Greenwood expects the children to behave in a similar fashion. Because Esther was attached to her father, she resents her mother's seeming nonchalance about his passing.

Furthermore, Esther feels alienated from her mother because of their differences. Mrs. Greenwood wants her daughter to be successful in a practical career field like she is, while Esther dreams of being a writer. Mrs. Greenwood also believes in keeping emotions held inside out of a sense of propriety, while Esther wishes her mother would lose control at least once. The measure of control that Mrs. Greenwood possesses is what Esther lacks, and perhaps one could argue that Esther is somewhat jealous of her mother's ability to maintain control.

Overall, the relationship between mother and daughter is best described as a simmering resentment rather than a volatile one. At her core, Mrs. Greenwood does care about her daughter, yet she doesn't know how to provide Esther with the kind of love her daughter wants. As a result, Esther feels kept at arm's length and unsupported.

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Esther displays many complex emotional relationships to people in the novel.  I think that one distinct emotional reality that Esther does display is the dislike she has for her mother.  There is an icy frigidity that underscores their relationship.  One such example of this is how Esther's mother tells her daughter that she was turned down from the writing program in an almost detached manner. There is no emotional quotient in the relaying of this difficult piece of news.  Their relationship is guarded by Mrs. Greenwood's desire for Esther follow the path of "what is" and of the Status Quo.  Mrs. Greenwood is more concerned with providing reasons for her daughter's institutionalization, as opposed to actually caring for her daughter's well- being.  When Esther receives flowers from her mother, they are thrown away and there is relief when Esther receives the news that she will not be able to receive any more visitors.  Esther's burning desire is to question the value of "what is" and posit what can be or what might be.  This transformative vision is something that Mrs. Greenwood lacks.  Such a different construction of reality is what lies at the heart of their relationship.  It is for this reason that there is little emotional connection between them.  

For all of the battle in which Esther is engaged in with the world and with herself, much of the root of this conflict comes back to the relationship she has with her mother.  Their difference in perception can be traced to the perception of the role that her father, Mrs. Greenwood's husband, played in their lives.  Esther was never allowed to grieve and properly process the pain of his loss, a cause of the anger that she feels towards her mother:  "I had always been my father's favorite, and it seemed fitting that I should take on a mourning my mother had never bothered with."  Esther's hostility and anger towards her mother is rooted in the perceived abandonment of a nurturing figure in childhood, something that can be traced to the way in which Esther views the women in her life.  The fact that Esther sees "sees Doreen, Betsy, Jay Cee, Joan Gilling, and many others as role models" can be traced to the lack of a role model Esther sees in her mother.

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