Sylvia Plath Essay Sample
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- Category: poetry
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Sylvia Plath Essay Sample
‘Plath’s poems seethe with anger, hope, desire and disappointment. Her poems reveal a perspective and a language use that are utterly unique’.
Sylvia Plath poetry is unique because of her use of language and the perspective and themes she explores, creating powerful images and original metaphorical ideas to evoke a strong climax of feelings which express the struggles she experienced in her own personal life. Her poems ‘Lady Lazarus’ and ‘Daddy’ are confessional poems that use contemporary form and respectively a childlike and mocking tone to convey the persona’s mixed sense of emotions . Plath’s poetry utilises unique language to express her anger, hope, desire and disappointment. There is a constant suicidal motif in her poems revealing her personal issues and problems which are linked to male domination in the patriarchal society she resided in. It is unusual that Plath’s poetry is written in a strong female perspective contrary to the passive domesticity which women were meant to abide by in her 1950’s and 1960’s context.
In Plath’s confessional poem ‘Daddy’, she uses language that creates powerful imagery to express a great purging of emotions she experienced in her personal life. The poet primarily contemplates her anger with her father and the paradoxical feelings she holds towards their relationship. The poem begins with a childish, rebellious tone by using the repetition of assonance in “you do not do” and this links to the title “Daddy” which incites within the reader a childish perspective. Throughout the poem, this perspective changes from the ‘godliness’ of the father figure who was the centre of her childhood into contempt and fear, and the change in relationship is shown by referring her father as a Nazi and herself as a victim, a Jew. From the use of these cruel imagery, we get a sense of her own battle between the adult self and the internal child, and it is almost like an irrational anger is vented, but ultimately, mixed with the grief and mourning over the loss of her loved father.
In another metaphor which Plath compares herself as a “foot” that lives in a “black shoe” referred to as her father, it expresses her paradoxical feelings towards her father because usually, shoes protect the foot and provide warmth for it, which would have been her father’s role if he was alive, but in this poem, the shoe gives the opposite effect as it is visualised as if the “foot” is tightly crammed and trapped inside the “shoe”. This gives an insight of the persona’s long periods of suffocation, suppressed emotions and voice that she held within herself in her 1950d and 1960s contexts where women had a lack of freedom against male dominance. Plath’s language in her poetry “Daddy” is filled with rich imagery and original metaphors that evoke strong emotions of ambivalence, suffocation, anger and disappointment which she felt experienced from her relationship with her father and the larger patriarchal society.
Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus” is also a dark, bitter, complicated and brutal poem which uses violent images to express her deep emotions and struggles with death. Strong feelings of anger are conveyed though irony and a mocking tone, establishing a disturbing tension between the seriousness of her experiences and the misleading light, conversational tone. “The peanut-crunching crowd shoves in to see” is a metaphor that Plath used to ironically visualise an aggressive audience who, with its voyeuristic pulse, derives pleasure to “unwrap” and watch “The big strip tease” which further adds a sinister effect.
These lines, with pure satire, emphasise on the pang of anger that Plath feels as she blames the people around her are not trying to save her but driving her to suicide instead. Furthermore, a real sense of disappointment is seen in “Comeback in broad day, to the same place, the same face, the same brute” as it describes after Plath’s reluctance resurrected after the suicide attempt. The repetition of “same” suggests that Plath is brought back to life only to return to struggles and suffocation in her day-to-day kind of living. Plath’s surge of mixed emotions of primarily rage and disappointment towards her father and between life and death are evident in her poems from her distinguishing imagery and irony.
However, no matter how bleak and dark Plath’s poetry seems, there are hints of hope and desire. In “Daddy”, there is a strong sense of desire to be with her father again beneath all those feelings of contempt. At first, a denial to believe that her father died in her childhood years is shown in “I used to pray to recover you”.
Later in the poem, the repetition of ‘back’ in “And get back, back, back to you” implies that she has never forgotten the death of her father after all those years and in fact, the hope to connect with her father is still there. Then, Plath’s hope is raised again after her dark suicidal attempt as it is revealed in a metaphor, “I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkempf look”, representing a situation in which she has regained her father figure by finding a husband who is similar to her father in the same brutal way. Hints of hope and desire can be seen frequently in “Daddy” as Plath’s ambivalent inner emotions are torn between a mixture of hope, desire and a longing to be with her father and the disappointment of his abandonment.
Similarly, a sudden change of tone is evident in the last two verses of “Lady Lazarus”, as feelings of hope and desire are conveyed in Plath’s unique use of language, building an image of a self-evolving transformation. In “Herr God, Herr Lucifer. Beware. Beware” Plath acknowledges no greater power than herself in an access of anger and grandiosity. By the end of the poem, we clearly see her intense desire of growing stronger as we visualise her to “rise” like a phoenix. Finally the last line, “And I eat men like air” blatantly emphasises herself as powerful, and like a phoenix, she desires to be reborn again and ultimately, with a revengeful intent, defeats all the men whom she sees as enemies, as she blames them for giving her struggles against male dominance. Thus, it can be seen that Plath’s poems contain feelings of hope and desire in that they depict her rising from positions subservience to ultimate power and control.
Plath’s poetry presents a unique perspective in relation to her Post-World War Two context and her role in society as a woman in the 1950s. The persona uses intense metaphorical comparisons to draw imagery of disempowerment of women against male dominated world in the 1950s. “Daddy” is a poem that clearly demonstrates the female’s suppressed speech through the use of extended war metaphor which portrays her father and men as Nazis and herself and females in general are the victims, the Jews. By attaching the mass of negative connotation associated with the Nazis onto men, Plath positions the reader to see them as manipulating and evil. The metaphor “the tongue stuck in my jaw” and the repetition of “ich” sounds indicates the suppressed speech and suffocation women felt in the patriarchal society at the time.
With many historical references exalted in her poems, Plath explicitly explores the emotions and unique perspectives of the subservience of women during the Post-World War Two period. In ‘Lady Lazarus’, Plath uses the constant motif of objectification of the female form in a mocking tone which is reinforced through dark humour. “Do not think I underestimate your great concern” is written in a sarcastic tone which conveys the complete opposite of what it does, as the poet criticises on the lack of real concern men have for women.
Furthermore, by suggesting a face as “Jew linen” in “My face a featureless, fine Jew linen”, it emphasises that women are objectified into commodities which are simply kept by men for their aesthetic appeal. The clever chosen adjectives “featureless, fine” represents women were not expected to have any features or opinions but only require a beautiful appearance. The mocking tone throughout this poem clearly depicts Plath’s rebellion to suppression of speech and subservience as she subverts the traditional role of woman. The rebellion and mocking tone that are expressed in “Lady Lazarus” demonstrate an utterly unique perspective on the objectification of women of the patriarchal society which Plath resided in.
In conclusion, Sylvia Plath’s style of poetry is distinguished as she has a confrontational and intense approach to writing. In her confessional poems “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” she creates dramatic and shocking imagery and often uses irony and sarcasm to express her deep emotions of inner rage as well as disappointment. Feelings of hope and desire are evident at times in the poems, indicating that the persona wants to overcome her inner emotions towards her father and the struggles she experienced towards male dominance. Plath’s poems portray abstract concepts through the unique use of language, which are primarily strong metaphors to criticise patriarchal view and beliefs while expressing a unique female perspective in the 1950’s and 1960’s patriarchal society.