Psychoanalytically Analyzing the Poetry of Sylvia Plath
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The poetry of Sylvia Plath can be interpreted psychoanalytically. Sigmund Freud believed that the majority of all art was a controlled expression of the unconscious. However, this does not mean that the creation of art is effortless; on the contrary it requires a high degree of sophistication. Works of art like dreams have both a manifest content (what is on the surface) and latent content (the true meaning). Both dreams and art use symbolism and metaphor and thus need to be interpreted to understand the latent content. It is important to maintain that analyzing Plaths poetry is not the same as analyzing Plath; her works stand by themselves and create their own fictional world. In the poems Lady Lazarus, Daddy and Electra on Azalea Path the psychoanalytic motifs of sadomasochism, regression and oral fixation, reperesnet the desire to return to the incestuous love object.
A brief introduction to psychoanalysis is necessary before we can begin to interpret Plaths poems. Art is the expression of unconscious infantile desires and the strongest of these desires is the wish to “do away with his father and…to take his mother to wife” (Freud, “Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis 411).This is what Freud called the Oedipal conflict. For women the desire is of course reversed to killing the mother and marrying the father and is called the Electra complex. Children resolve this conflict by identifying with their same sex parent. Loss of a parent can prevent the normal resolution of the Oedipal conflict and result in a fixation or obsession with the lost object (object is the term used to define the internal representations of others). The desire to have the lost object back is also the desire for what Freud called primary narcissism. ...
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... foot. Since the conscious mind is at the top of the body, feet are thus symbolic representation of the unconscious. Here the speaker is stating that she has been stuck in her desires. The regression can also be seen in the way the speaker tries to return to the father “I made a model of you” which suggests that the husband is only replacing the father. The lines “And I said I do I do” are a parallel to the first lines in the poem “you do not do you do not do” here even though the father is lost she is saying “I do” to his “model”.
Plaths Poetry can be understood through the psychoanalytic model. The motifs of oral fixation, sadomasochism and the desire to return to primary narcissism are consistent throughout Plaths Poetry. Overall these motifs represent the desire to return to the state of primary narcissism and to be reunited with the incestuous love object.