Esther's mother is the most important figure in the novel after Buddy, the boyfriend, and Joan, the peer with a somewhat parallel fate. Mrs. Greenwood teaches shorthand, after Esther's father dies, in order to support the family. She stresses the need for having practical skills, and she tells Esther that even "the apostles were tent-makers." She is portrayed as having deep resentments toward her husband for not having provided properly for the family, as well as for dying early and leaving no insurance. Mrs. Greenwood is also pictured as a woman without much feeling. She works hard and expects her children to succeed, but there is not much display of warmth or emotion from her. Esther does not even remember her mother crying over Mr. Greenwood's death.
However, Mrs. Greenwood is a dutiful woman. When Esther comes home from New York City, Mrs. Greenwood sits with Esther in the evenings and tries to teach her shorthand; and after Esther's suicide attempt, she has Esther transferred out of the ugly state mental hospital by enlisting Mrs. Guinea's aid. Mrs. Greenwood wants to believe that her daughter "is not like those awful people," but, nevertheless, she tries to get Esther good medical care.
The relationship between Mrs. Greenwood and Esther never comes into great conflict, but it is never resolved either. The reader simply has images of Esther and her mother gliding from one place to another in gray or black vehicles, without leaving and without arriving.
The most significant matter that might be observed is that after Esther's first shock treatment, Mrs. Greenwood's knuckles are described as being "bone white, as if the skin had worn off them in the hour of waiting." Certainly, Esther's mother is a woman who has painfully, passively experienced the tragedies of her life without crying. By all social standards, she is a good woman, but Esther, it seems, wishes that — just once — Mrs. Greenwood would misbehave — or scream — or cry.