Sylvia Plath: Research Paper
Sylvia Plath’s life story could be considered tragic as she was monopolized by a severe depression yet expressed her sorrows through enlightening words in her many poems. The death of her father when she was only eight years old commenced her lifelong despondency and insecurities. In the poem “Daddy”, she speaks of how she never fully understood him and blames him for the emptiness she feels without a father. As time moved on, Plath discovered her writing talent while excelling in school (Harmon).
Although a story of hers was welcomed by Seventeen Magazine her senior year of high school and she received two scholarships to attend Smith College in Massachusetts and was accepted to notable internships, Plath was never completely satisfied with herself. She felt as though there was always something she needed to prove to the world. Suffering a severe breakdown after her junior year at Smith in 1953, Plath attempted suicide for the first time as disappointments outweighed her many achievements (McCann).
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Recovering from electroconvulsive shock therapy, Plath graduated from Smith College and proceeded to study at Cambridge University in England. There she published her first collection of work called The Colossus and Other Poems. Soon after, she began her first ambiguously autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. Unfortunately, it was not as successful as she and many others had hoped at the time. But Plath came back by writing a radio play, Three Women: A Monologue for Three Voices and her so-called October poems.
These literary pieces unleashed the vexation she felt from expectations others had for her (Harmon)(Gilbert). At Cambridge University, Plath met and secretly married Ted Hughes, an English poet. They both worked as college professors for a time to pay the bills but focused much energy on writing poetry books. After moving around England and the United States, Plath gave birth to a daughter, Frieda, and later to a son, Nicholas. Stressed from work, parenthood, and her marriage, Hughes and Plath separated in 1962 after a short union of only six years.
She moved away to London with her two children to live and work in the former house of W. B. Yeats, a famous Irish poet. Feeling betrayed yet again by a man, Sylvia Plath took her life by gas inhalation on February 11, 1962 at the age of thirty (McCann). Although she had a very unhappy life, she achieved much by composing over 120 fascinating poems. Plath’s writing has been praised by many because of its “surprising metaphors and often grotesque humor” and its “frank anger over social expectations of women” (Harmon).
Imitators of her sensational work have come about addressing similar experiences with nervous breakdowns, sexual embarrassments, and suicide attempts. The Bell Jar, specifically, is remembered for the protagonist, Esther Greenwood, an unstable and hypersensitive woman that encounters an antagonistic world she disagrees with. Esther’s acute personality and psychological discomfort matches that of Plath (McCann). Much of her poetry was published posthumously including her Collected Poems which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982.
In all, Plath’s widespread feminist poems divulged her hatred of shallow men that led to her separation from society and to her downfall. Her adventurous use of bold metaphors and stunning imagery have given her the title of one of the most important American poets (Gilbert). Much of Sylvia Plath’s lifelong self hatred and depression was the result of her damaging relationship with her father. Reoccurring subjects that appear in many of her works are German Nazis and the Holocaust. “She still suffers both the stifling authority of her father and the pain of his early death” (Dunn).
Plath compares her connection to her father as if she were a Jewish victim in the Holocaust. “Aryan eye bright blue / so black no sky / my pretty red heart in two / a man in black / a stake in your fat black heart” (Plath). She claims they are so different and that he is so domineering that his premature death affects her for the rest of her life as she is not able to resolve the conflict. In the poem “Lady Lazarus”, Plath speaks again of her distrust of men. It is also a biblical reference to Lazarus in a negative way as he is referred to as a Nazi, similar to her comparison to her father.
The need to prove her own sexuality and that of all women in society is common in Plath’s feminist writing. “But the poet addresses the same societal forces that direct this practice, forces intent on silencing a woman’s ability to articulate her sexual nature” (Stricker). She believes it is unfair that women cannot express their sexuality without being judged in society and she makes out to change that. “Here the poet refers to the thumb directly as a sexual being. the ‘dirty girl’ of many parents’ nightmares is the daughter who is promiscuous, or maybe a girl-child who simply enjoys sex” (Stricker).
Also pertaining to women, she constantly discusses how men assume authority in life and she seeks to change this with her words from the poem “Lady Lazarus”. “Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / and I eat men like air” (Plath). In “Never Try to Trick Me With a Kiss”, a pessimistic Plath is utterly disgusted with men as she is finished with being pushed around. Towards the end of her life, she reclaims her voice and the voice of all women with her empowering words. As Sylvia Plath was depressed for the majority of her life, death and suicide permeate her poems. Plath wrote about taboo subjects such as depression, mental and emotional instability, and familial and domestic problems” (Goodspeed-Chadwick). Darkness and pain accompany these gloomy matters. “This theme of science gone awry returns when the post-suicidal speaker remember recovering from her suicide attempt: ‘But they pulled me out of the sack, / And they stuck me together with glue. ’” She speaks so lightly of this as if it were a common occasion to have to recover from a suicide attempt.
Without this though, her work may not be as magnificently fresh and wonderful as “the whole process of dying and being brought back to life intensifies her art” (Collins). It is a gift that she is able and willing to express her sentiments in these poems to share with the rest of the world. Plath’s attitude and outlook on life is rather bleak but her writing helps her become more acquainted with herself. “This moment of looking back on her life, however, is also a moment of self-awareness” (Dunn). As it is so important to her, desperation from her relationship from her father is traumatic for her, even at the age of thirty.
Her work eventually allows her to somewhat accept herself. “So through her final masterpiece, she becomes her own god” (Collins). Yet even though Plath writes of such dark material, her tone is rather playful and affectionate. “Figuratively, the mind of the poet has been plumbed to bring light feelings of anger, fear, and guilt surrounding sexuality” (Stricker). “What a thrill —- / My thumb instead of an onion. / The top quite gone / Except for a sort of hinge of skin” (Plath). These lines from her poem “Cut” are quite sarcastic and very light in tone.
In all, Plath speaks pretty darkly of life and of her dreams but in a way that makes them sound much less serious than they actually are. Plath uses a variety of literary techniques when styling her poetry. From metaphors to an array of rhyme schemes, she carefully chooses each line to portray her feelings. Imagery in her poems brings about visions in the mind. “The poet uses Holocaust imagery and references to magnify the controller/controlled relationship” (Collins). For example, “I have always been scared of you, / With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo. / And your neat mustache / And your Aryan eye, bright blue. Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You–” (Plath). Other images of blood and gore appear. “Off-balance, the guests do not know whether to laugh or scream, The arrival of blood to the wound relieves the tension with a luxurious, sensual image: ‘Then that red plush’” (Stricker). The cut represents something physical and emotional. Lastly of imagery, her description of her reflection in the mirror as a “terrible fish” is awfully vivid. (Richardson) “In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman / Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish” (Plath).
She is terrified of growing old, losing her sexual nature, and becoming this “terrible fish” she speaks of. Her insecurities about age are main reasons for her suicidal thoughts. In her poetry, she compares these thoughts to images that other readers can relate to and can understand as deeply as she understands her feelings. Another style of Plath’s writing includes similes and metaphors. These create a symbol for the reader to understand the poet’s sentiments better. “The Holocaust is used as an extended metaphor to connote the extensive victimization endured by the ‘I’ of the poem” (Goodspeed-Chadwick).
Once again, the Holocaust is used a a metaphor to her detrimental relationship with her father. There is a relevant metaphor used in the “dirty girl” from the poem “Cut”. It connects to the unfairness of society as women are thought of as immoral because of their sex. Many random similes are places throughout her work. “It will ping like a Chinese chime, / Pawing like paradeground horses” (Plath). Major themes discussed in Sylvia Plath’s writing are anger and the Holocaust, death and suicide, feminism, violence, and psychological release.
It seems that she writes these poems for her own good without the intention of reaching out to others as much as she did. “Each is a release in the the self, into emotional and psychological depths either cultivated by or thrust upon her” (Richardson). Dunn agrees: “This tension between resentment and sadness forms the context for the poem’s main theme: the speaker’s journey though horror and rage to self-individuation. ” The poem “Ariel” brought about great feminist themes because of its “denunciation of patriarchal power, brutality, and violence” (Goodspeed-Chadwick).
For example, “The dew that flies / Suicidal, at one with the drive / Into the red / Eye, the caldron of morning” (Plath). Violence mixes with nostalgia in many of her poems. In all, Plath’s themes are obvious and relevant throughout all of her works and contribute a great deal to her success. Sylvia Plath takes advantage of her colorful vocabulary and exquisite sense of metaphors and similes in her poems. In the poem, A Better Resurrection, she uses many literary techniques to show the reader what she feels and how strongly she feels the way she does.
This piece of work outlines her insecurities while she doubts and pities herself as if she has done something terribly wrong in her life. In line two, she describes her heart using a simile: “My heart within me like a stone”. Along with the imagery of a hard stone where the heart should be that goes along with this line, Plath emphasizes that he heart doesn’t beat normally or like most other people’s. She has sinned in her life which leads to self pity and lack of liveliness. Plath uses one more simile in this poem on line seven: “My life is like the falling leaf;”.
This comes off as if she thinks of her life as the leaf that has just fallen off of a thriving, blooming tree. The leaf is slowly drifting down to its fate just like how her life is steadily losing its animation. Plath’s negative personality comes through in this work. Her insecurities shine through right off the bat in line one where the repetition of “I have no” is repeated several times: “I have no wit, I have no words, no tears;”. It is almost as if she has lost all humanity. She cannot reason, she cannot speak, and she cannot cry.
Her literary technique of repetition shows the reader and emphasizes that she is uncertain about her abilities. It is an indication that she may never be satisfied with herself again. In the final line of the poem, she tells Jesus to quicken her time in the world: “O Jesus, quicken me. ”. The meaning of the word “quicken” is also to revive life to someone. Perhaps Plath is unsure if she would rather hasten her time living or be rejuvenated as she was many years ago. Alliteration forces certain letters, words, or phrases in a poem to stand out.
In Plath’s case, she purposely places the letter “L” multiple times in one line: “Look right, look left, I dwell alone;”. Without these multiplicities, the line may not have stood out and would have been overlooked. But it is important in understanding the context of the poem. She feels that she cannot be pleased with her life because she feels alone. She doesn’t understand life and feels that she is the only one who experiences the same sentiments. Lastly, Plath has excellent rhyme schemes in the majority of her poems. They are perfectly constructed to allow the poem to be read easily but without being trite.
The rhyme scheme of A Better Resurrection is ABABCDCD. Sylvia Plath courageously expresses her feelings thoroughly in over 150 poems through her life struggle. Although the end of her life was rather tragic, her words have given a new meaning of life to a countless number of women and men who are inspired by her proud and daring personality that shines through her poems. Using carefully chosen words to get her message across to her readers has led to impressive successes in her lifetime and posthumously. Remembered by many, Sylvia Plath’s writing has been and will be adored by the world of literature for generations to come.