Initiation by Sylvia Plath – Commentary
In the short story, Initiation, Sylvia Plath exemplifies the idea that freedom, independence, and acceptance can only be achieved when one learns to overcome the desire to fit in with the ideals of society. Through the character Millicent and the many uses of devices, Plath demonstrates that through the acceptance of our imperfections and flaws, one learns the beauty of individuality. The point in the story when Millicent meets the small man from the bus is when she begins to realize that there is more to life than being confined to a group like the sorority.
An interesting conversation sparked when Millicent asked the small man what he had for breakfast as he responded with ‘heather birds’ eyebrows on toast’. Instantly, Millicent is captivated and feels a sense of comradeship with this stranger. To belong doesn’t mean one has to follow the ideals of society because we can often find the most fascinating relations towards the oddest things just like how Millicent felt towards the man. Furthermore, the heather birds symbolize individuality because the fact that these creatures are mythological there’s that sense of uniqueness to these creatures. Unlike the sparrows that were mentioned in the story, the heather birds are freer, independent, and captivating in their own way. Conjointly, she begins to realize that the people weren’t smiling at her because they knew she was being initiated; rather, as Millicent quoted, “… they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them,” people were warming up to her because Millicent showed interest in them.
Even though this markedly absurd task was only set up to embarrass Millicent, it actually proved to be more of an eye opener for Millicent because she realized that acceptance only took the courage to open up to each other. Moreover, the part in the excerpt when Millicent is sitting on the woodpile, it’s like she’s being offered up for sacrifice. Just like how a lamb would be offered up for sacrifice in honor of a god, Millicent has to sacrifice her identity to show that she is willing to devote herself to the sorority. All in all, Plath brilliantly depicts an ambitious journey of a young girl who sets off to discover the value of independence and freedom. Millicent’s initiation turned out to be a trial of self-discovery rather than a trial to see if she was capable enough to be part of the sorority. By the end of the excerpt, Millicent decides that she values her identity more than attaining the privileges of popularity and that acceptance from society can only be achieved by accepting oneself.