Mrs. Greenwood remains in the background of the novel, for Esther makes little attempt to describe her. However, despite her relative invisibility, Mrs. Greenwood’s influence pervades Esther’s mind. Mrs. Greenwood subscribes to society’s notions about women. She sends Esther an article emphasizing the importance of guarding one’s virginity, and while she encourages Esther to pursue her ambition to write, she also encourages her to learn shorthand so that she can find work as a secretary. While Esther worries that her desire to be a poet or a professor will conflict with her probable role as wife and mother, her mother hopes that Esther’s ambitions will not interfere with her domestic duties.
Mrs. Greenwood clearly loves Esther and worries about her: she runs through her money paying for Esther’s stay in the hospital, and brings Esther roses on her birthday. Still, Esther partly faults her mother for her madness, and Plath represents this assigning of blame as an important breakthrough for Esther. When Esther tells Dr. Nolan that she hates her mother, Nolan reacts with satisfaction, as if this admission explains Esther’s condition and marks an important step in her recovery. The doctors decide that Esther should stay in the hospital until winter term at college begins rather than go home to live with her mother. Perhaps Esther hates her mother partly because she feels guilty about inflicting such vast pain on her.