The Bell Jar explores the impact that family has on an individual's identity in the context of 1950s American society. Esther's depression is partly brought on by the fact that neither her father nor her mother provide her with a stable emotional foundation: she lost her father at a young age, and her mother is unsympathetic to Esther's personal crises. Moreover, Esther's German background contributes to her feelings of isolation from mainstream American society, with Germany still viewed as the enemy from two World Wars. Without a parent to look to as a model or a source of comfort, Esther seeks alternative parental figures in more sympathetic, female mentors.
In The Bell Jar, family is viewed as just another arrangement that subjugates women to the authority of a dominant male figure, the husband and/or father.
In The Bell Jar, alternative mother figures play a critical role in Esther's recovery because they show Esther that women can have fulfilling emotional and professional lives, free from the male domination.