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Part of what makes Esther such a compelling character is that she really lacks the full and clear totality to describe herself. She is many different things and what ends up helping to cause her breakdown is the lack of definition she has of her own sense of self. When we define her, it is similar to how she attempts to define herself in terms of being fluid and dependent on context. Certainly, one term and she and we can use to describe Esther is intelligent. Esther is quite learned and willing to surrender her life to intellectual ideas or the need to rely on intellect in order to succeed. Conflicted would be another term that could be used to describe Esther. She is conflicted on how she sees the world and on how the world sees her. Esther is frustrated with how her definition of self is so dependent on the conflict she feels towards men, towards women, towards her own sense of self. I think that another term that Esther would use to describe herself and we can describe her is evolving. Esther's narrative is constantly in flux and this is reflective of her own sense of self. Her identity and her state of being is one in which there is definition fluidity and the need to understand and embrace this becomes one of the most pressing crucibles she has to face.
Esther constantly describes herself in terms that show that she is dissociated from herself and that she regards herself as something less than human. Though she has earned many honors at college and has the backing of poets and professors, she finds herself enervated. She asks herself why she wants to "balk and balk like a dull cart horse?" By using these words, she is likening herself to a pack animal who is without reason and is demeaning herself. Later, when she cancels her summer school class, she says, "I dialed the Admissions Office and listened to the zombie voice leave a message." She describes herself in a way that seems dissociated, like she is watching herself carry out actions the way she would watch another person.
The only time Esther describes herself with any sympathy is when she describes her fictional self. She says that when she writes, "A feeling of tenderness filled my heart. My heroine would be myself, only in disguise." Otherwise, Esther is disgusted with herself, and when she is reading about babies in a magazine, she thinks, "How easy having babies seemed to the women around me! Why was I so unmaternal and apart?" She is constantly using terms that refer to herself as unnatural and is constantly criticizing herself for her thoughts and actions.
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