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Comparing Feminist Poetry by Plath and Sexton

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Comparing Feminist Poetry by Plath and Sexton

Poetry "should be a shock to the senses. It should also hurt" Anne Sexton believed (Baym 2703), and evidence of this maxim's implications echoes loudly through the writing of Sexton as well as through the work of her friend and contemporary Sylvia Plath.

Plath and Sexton's lifetimes spanned a period of remarkable change in the social role of women in America, and both are obviously feminist poets caught somewhere between the submissive pasts of their mothers and the liberated futures awaiting their daughters. With few established female poets to emulate, Plath and Sexton broke new ground with their intensely personal, confessional poetry. Their anger and frustration with female subjugation, as well as their agonizing personal struggles and triumphs appear undisguised in their works, but the fact that both Sexton and Plath committed suicide inevitably colors what the reader gleans from their poems. However, although their poems, such as Plath's "Daddy" and Sexton's "Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman," deal with the authors' private experiences, they retain elements of universality; their language cuts through a layer of individual perspective to reach a current of raw emotion common to all human, but especially female, understanding.

In Plath's "Daddy," written just before her death and published posthumously, the most readily accessible emotion is anger, and much of the poem is couched in autobiographical allusions. Plath's own father died of a gangrenous infection, caused by diabetes he refused to treat, when Plath was eight years old, and his death was "the crucial event of her childhood" (Baym 2743). Plath makes personal references to her father as a...

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...life struggles and human relationships- of the things women carry with them that make them who they are.

Works Cited

Baym, Nina. General Editor. "Anne Sexton." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. 2703-4.

---"Sylvia Plath." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. 2742-44.

"Electra Complex." The World Book Medical Encyclopedia. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago. April 2002. < http://www.rush.edu/index.html>.

Plath, Sylvia. "Daddy." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. General

Editor, Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. 2748-50.

Sexton, Anne. "Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. General Editor, Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. 2707-09.
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