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Analysis of Stings by Sylvia Plath

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In lines 51-60 of “Stings,” imagery, allusion, and antithesis are employed by the author, Sylvia Plath, to develop her attitude towards men. In this section of “Stings,” Plath uses the “queen bee” as a symbol of herself -- a fiery, angry, vengeful daughter who rises up in spite of the man (her husband Ted) described in lines 38-50.

Because much of Plath’s work is confessional poetry, it can be analyzed not only by her use of poetic devices but by her personal history as well. This poem was written on 21 May 1962, the day after a weekend visit by some friends of the family, the Wevils. Sylvia sensed an attraction between her husband Ted and Assia Wevil, which may have provided the motivation for much of “Stings.” Lines in this section of the poem, especially lines 51-52 (“They thought death was worth it, but I / Have a self to recover, a queen”) indicate Sylvia’s desire to assert her independence, not only from Ted but from all the other female bees, who die when they sting -- “sting” in this case meaning sacrificing themselves for men. From this standpoint, “Stings” can be seen as a feminist work as well as an “anti-Ted” poem.

In lines 51-60, Plath uses several poetic devices to express this feminist theme and the anti-Ted theme. Lines 55-58 state: “With her lion-red body / her wings of glass / Now she is flying / More terrible than she ever was, red / Scar in the sky, red comet.” In these lines, her feminist attitude is revealed in large part by color imagery. “Red” is used in lines 55, 57, and 58 to express her independent lust, strength and power (archetypally, red symbolizes male strength, ex. Mars as the red planet). The lion-red queen emerging from all of the worker bees echoes the lines 82-84 of “Lady Lazarus,” in which Plath alludes to the Phoenix: “Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air.” Her allusion to the emerging “lion-red body” in line 55 accomplishes the same purpose. However, in the same line, Plath uses antithesis to assert her femininity as well -- “wings of glass” seems
to express her delicate nature in contrast with the power of the “lion.”

The final lines, lines 59 and 60, of the poem reveal more of her contempt towards Ted. She is flying “Over the engine that killed her--- / the mausoleum, the wax house.” It is ambiguous whether the word “killed” was intentionally used as hyperbole, or whether Plath believed that she was like the Phoenix, and rose from the ashes. These lines seem to imply that, as something “more terrible than she ever was,” will be seeking revenge on Ted.

The bee motif, which spans the entire poem, reveals much about Plath’s message. As the queen bee in “Stings,” she is independent and resentful towards not only Ted but all of the other workers who die when stinging (females who “die” when sacrificing themselves for men), as well as contemptful of Ted for cheating on her (Ted is “the engine that killed her”). This is a very feminist attitude, an attitude so prevalent in Plath’s poetry that she has rightly been termed the “bitch goddess.”


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