Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

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The Many Views of Sylvia Plath

     Pulitzer Prize winner, Sylvia Plath began her
misunderstood life on October 27, 1932, in Jamacia
Plains Massachusetts. She was born to Otto and Aurelia
Plath, who were both teachers (Sylvia Plath).Her father
was a professor at Boston University. He studied
bees.(Personal Influences) Plath has been seen in a
variety of ways; as a tragic poet, the all-American,
girl next-door, but, most of all, a heroine of the
feminist movement.
     Plath’s life was haunted by visions of her past.
Her father died when she was eight from neglected
diabetes, after the amputation of a toe, and eventually
and entire leg (Personal Influences). “Otto Plath was
diabetic, yet chose to ignore doctor's warnings about
certain prohibited foods. He projected an arrogant
self-confidence as if nothing could defeat him. It was
this same arrogance that caused his death.” (Personal
Influences). Plath never fully recovered from her
father’s untimely passing (Personal Influences). She
felt betrayed, and was consumed by her own guilt. She
felt that if he loved her more, he would have taken
better care of himself. Otto Plath is a recurring
theme in her works. Her poem ,Daddy, expresses her
resentment and bitterness toward being deserted by him
(Personal Influences).
     After receiving straight A’s throughout high
school, Plath attended Smith University. In the summer
of 1953, she received the opportunity to go to New York
and intern with Mademoiselle. While in New York, Plath
suffered an emotional breakdown. She plunged into a
deep depression (Sylvia Plath). When she returned home
to Boston, where she was living with her mother (whom
she hated), she took a handful of sleeping pills, and
attempted to end her life (Sylvia Plath). After this,
she was sent to McLean Hospital, to be treated for
mental illness (Sylvia Plath).
     Upon her release from the hospital, she returned
to Smith, and then to Cambridge, England to study at
Newnham College. (Sylvia Plath) Here she met, fell in
love with, and, after four months, married the future
Poet Laureate of England, Ted Hughes (Gray). The two
were together for six years, and produced two children
together, Frieda in 1960 and Nicholas in 1962, (Sylvia
Plath). However, Hughes left Plath for Assia Wevil in
the winter of 1962 (Sylvia Plath). Desperate and
alone, Plath sealed off the doors to her children’s
rooms on February 11, 1963, placed her head in a gas
oven, and died (Sylvia Plath). Ironically, Assia
Welvill eventually killed herself in the same exact way
as Plath (Kirjasto).
     Hughes felt that he was powerless to help Plath.
He believed that she was destined to kill herself
because of her fixation with her father (Gray). “What
happens in the heart simply happens,” Hughes said

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     Plath is not only seen as tragic, but also as
literature’s “Golden Girl” (Personal Influences). She
was brilliant and talented. “An acclaimed poet and
novelist. She is the golden girl who had
everything--beauty and brains; a great and recognized
talent; a family that included a daughter and son. Yet
on a third attempt, she commit suicide in 1963 at age
31,” (Personal Influences). Hughes recalls their first
meeting in his poem, “American legs/ simply went on up/
that flaring hand/ Those long, balletic, monkey-elegant
fingers/ and the face/ a tight ball of joy,” (Gray).
     This few of Plath as a celebrated and loved poet,
contrast sharply with views of her as a deranged and
tragic poet. Even she found great confidence in
herself at times. “Dying is an art, like everything
else. I do it exceptionally well,” (Women).
     Is it possible that this seemingly
self-destructive girl is also this woman who exudes
such confidence and radiance? She says, “It is as if
my life were magically run by two electric currents:
joyous positive and despairing negative--whichever is
running at the moment dominates my life, floods it. I
am now flooded with despair, almost hysteria,”
(Women). It has been theorized that Plath suffered
from Bipolar disorder. A disease producing these
extreme emotions, which she describes here, (Women).
     Perhaps the most popular view of Plath is that of
the feminist heroine and martyr. “The nascent feminist
movement in the 60s enlisted her as a martyr and
vilified Hughes as her oppressor, and, intentionally or
not, her murderer,” (Gray). Indeed, much of Plath’s
writing examines the woman’s plight. She writes,
“every woman adores a fascist/ The boot in the face/
the brute/ Brute heart of a brute like you,” (Personal
     Her poetry drips with cynicism and resentment.
She writes, “Out of the ash/ I rise with my red hair/
and I eat men like air,” (Kirjasto). Here she places
herself in the aggressor position. She puts herself in
charge and in power above the man. She also writes, “O
Sister, Mother, Wife/ Sweet Lethe is my life/ I am
never, never, never coming home!” (Cooper). It seems
that Plath was fed up with the typical female
     Why was Plath so fixated with the role of women is
society? “She made her first suicide attempt at the age
of twenty because the pressures put on her to conform
to the role of a woman, in particular, a middle-class
upwardly-mobile educated woman, by society, had become
too much for her. She lacked either the strength or the
courage to continue to fight against the ideals which
were being continually foisted upon her,” (Cooper).
     Perhaps Plath felt a lack of control over her own
fate, as did Her heroine, Esther Greenwood, in the Bell
Jar, Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel (Cooper).
“Esther wishes to discover herself, discover what she
really wants to do rather than just accepting as her
desires and ambitions those which society has set out
for her,” (Cooper).
     Plath was proud of her work as a supporter of
women everywhere. She writes in Letters Home, “I
shall be one of the few women poets in the world who is
a fully rejoicing woman, not a bitter or frustrated or
warped man-imitator, which ruins most of them in the
end. I am a woman and glad of it, and my songs will be
of fertility and the earth,” (Cooper).
     This feeling of entrapment, which led Plath to
such deep despair in 1953, also leads many other women
into a similar situation. Plath wanted to rise up, and
take a stand for those oppressed women (Cooper). In
Plath’s poem, Two Campers in Cloud Country, she states,
“I lean to you, numb as a fossil. Tell me I’m here,”
     Again, her resentment for her father, and for all
male authority in general, is exposed in her famous
poem, Daddy. Plath compares her father to a Nazi, and
herself to a Jew. (Cooper). Perhaps her father was
the spawn of this deep rooted animosity toward men. Or
perhaps, and more likely, her separation from Hughes
led to her bitter, biting cynicism.
     In her poem I am Vertical, she suggest that a
woman reaches perfection through death. She states,
“The woman is perfected/ Her dead/ Body wears the
smile of accomplishment,” (Cooper). “She feels that
her role as a woman is inflicted on her by society in
general, she does indeed seem to see it as a
conspiracy, and the only way to escape from it as
oblivion or death,” (Cooper).
     In the Bell Jar, Plath describes her heroine,
Esther Greenwood, sitting in the crook of a tree. She
is surrounded by ripe, beautiful fruit, of which she
can only choose one. One fruit represents marriage, a
happy home, security. Another adventure, independence.
Each a different profession, each a different path.
The longer she sits, debating with herself, she begins
to see some of the fruit wither and drop from the tree.
Her choices become slimmer and slimmer until she
becomes hysterical and can hardly breathe.
     Another excerpt from the Bell Jar shows her
indecisiveness when making life long decisions. “When
they [the photographers] asked me what I wanted to be I
said I didn’t know. ’Oh sure you know,’ the
photographer said. ’She wants,’ said Jay Cee wittily,
‘to be everything.’” (Lucy).
     Perhaps it was thoughts such as this that led to
her eventual suicide. Plath made it evident through
her writing that she had no interest in being a common
house wife. Her poem Lesbos examines the bleakness of
the life of a house wife. The poem has a feeling of
“claustrophobia” brought on by images of a windowless
kitchen. This implies that the dirty kitchen is the
“begining and end” of this woman’s world, (Cooper).
     Was this sad image the way Plath saw her life on
February 11, 1963? She was living alone, raising two
children. The three of them lived in a London flat
with no heat (Personal Influences). Perhaps she saw
herself as the sad woman described in Lesbos. “And I
shall be useful when I lie down finally:/Then the trees
may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for
me,” Plath writes in I am Vertical (Cooper). Perhaps
her biggest fear had been realized. In her mind, she
was nothing more than a simple housewife of no real
value (Personal Influences).
     Many different portraits of Sylvia Plath have been
painted over the years. Some see her as a sad,
misunderstood poet. Some see her as America’s golden
girl. And still others hold a vision of her as a
martyr for the cause of equality, and the avenger of
women everywhere. Throughout all the debate, one thing
holds true; Plath led a mysterious life, a life we will
never fully grasp. However her work serves as a
testemant to her life. Her passion and genius are
inspiring and have been remembered long after her
untimely death. “ Sylvia Plath had the ability to
transform any emotion or event into the most beautiful
of verse. However, the weight of her actual life was to
much for her to handle, and so as so many other
geniuses have done, she left the world much too
early,”(Sylvia Plath).

Works Cited


“Lucy’s Sylvia Plath Page”

“Poet’s License: British Laureate Ted Hughes”. Gray, Paul. February 16, 1998. Val 115. No. 6

“Sylvia Plath: Personal Influences on Plath’s Writing”

“Sylvia Plath: The life and Death of Sylvia Plath”

“Two women writers challenge society's conspiracy against
women” Cooper, Cathrine.


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