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Basically, "Self in 1958" describes the commercialization, and insignificance of the individual in modern America. Thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the individuals are ignored, and people are like toys with who become strangers to themselves. Their personal opinions are insignificant. As the time passes they become the victims of consumption and commercialization and the individuals in that consumerist society become alien to themselves.
Anne Sexton's "Self in 1958" describes the "fake" lives of these alienated people who has "fake" smiles on their faces. The poem begins with the line; "What is reality." This line shows that the poet is in search of reality, the reality of life; for that reason she tries to define herself. She is searching for her true self, namely for her self-identity. She uses personification as a poetic device; she gives human qualities to a non-living object. For this purpose, she compares herself to a "plastic doll" which has "nylon legs", "advertised clothes" and "luminous arms." This baby doll is seen as her double in the poem and she materializes herself.
As a "synthetic doll" she has no senses. she even lives in a doll's house which is composed of counterfeit objects. Moreover, for her the reproduction of human beings is just an action of enlargement and by this way "life takes aim." Therefore "Iron bed" symbolizes the place where sexual intercourse takes place. The bed is made of iron because according to her the actions which take place on this bed do not contain any emotional feelings. That is why the bed is as cold and as hard as iron.
Furthermore, her house is in a city but she considers that she does not live in this city, it is "someone's city." She sees a plastic doll as her double, and a doll can not live in a city of living beings.
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Man or woman, it does not matter, this search for our self-identity is a task that we all have to make. However, this task of searching self-identity may be even harder for women because society has traditionally denied women the same freedom it gives to men. This question of what is reality is carried another issue, that Sexton recognizes the different roles that she has played in her life, though none of them ultimately represent who she truly is.
Today we're all very conscious of the Barbie Doll stereotype, so it shouldn't surprise us that Sexton felt pressured to become a synthetic "plaster doll," who dressed in the proper "I Magnin" clothes. Nor should it come as a surprise that she felt pressure on her to live an artificial life. Consequently she has forced into these synthetic "roles." It is not surprising that she questions reality. I think more women should question the reality.
In the second poem called as "In an Artist's Studio" by Christina Rosetti, there is an artist who has pictures which were drawn on canvasses. In all of these pictures there is a one single figure appears, who sits or walks. In fact, this figure is artist's beloved one's double because the poet indicates that it is a "selfsame figure." The "selfsame figure" is a woman who is special for the artist. Also the poet compares canvasses to mirrors because they reflect the figure of a woman whom the artist has in his memories and in his mind and these canvasses reflect her idealized personality, or her idealized double. The artist tries to draw her features in detailed way and tries to define her identity. We understand that this woman is a person who is real and the artist has dreams of her. However, he draws her picture "as she fills his dreams"; she is the woman as male-defined figure or the artist defines her as an ideal. He feeds upon her face" is a reference to the artist's insatiable lust for the aesthetically ideal woman in the painting. He is fascinated by his own power to create art and to shape his subjects according to his own desires and tastes, "not she as she is but as she fills his dreams." The poet is also making a larger comment about art in general; an artist can never truly depict reality as it is, (art is an artificial medium) but he/she is usually very good at depicting reality as he/she thinks it should be -whether it be a fantasy or just an inspired subject.
The last poem called "The Witch" by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge also tells about an alienated woman. In first two stanzas the speaker represents herself as being on a journey, but surely this is to gain the sympathy of the readers. She is lonely and she is cold. It is a hard quest to self-definition; "I have walked a great while over the snow" and the "threshold" symbolizes her arrival at her destination. In the first and second stanzas she is waiting to get through the threshold. She seems she was excluded from the society. She is isolated and lonely. She is in need of help. In third stanza this lonely "wanderer" who is searching for her true-identity comes to a place and the speaker changes. Now the speaker in the third stanza tells us about this "wanderer." This speaker is possibly a man. It is a kind of reconciliation; she comes face to face with the speaker. At the end she achieves her task of arriving at her destination; "To lift her over the threshold, and let her in at the door." However as she was lifted over the threshold the "quivering fire" stops burning. It is a death-like and negative image. After this woman arrived in the house the heat and comfort in the house have suddenly become extinct. The title of the poem "The Witch" points out that the woman which is mentioned in the poem is the witch. For this reason nobody wants her to enter their houses. Coleridge used it as a symbol throughout her poetry to represent female alienation from society.
In conclusion in these poems the poets dwell upon the theme of alienation from the society and from themselves. I have tried to scrutinize the poems in chronological order therefore we see that women have always tried to cope with difficulties. Sometimes they feel themselves as a "witch", sometimes a "plastic doll" or as a "a picture on a canvas." These artificial symbols show their alienation from themselves.