The Symbolism of Color in “Tulips” Essay Sample

The Symbolism of Color in “Tulips” Pages
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Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips” which was written on March 18th, 1961 and originally published in “Ariel”, is a poem written about a bouquet of tulips a woman received while recovering in the hospital from a procedure. While anyone recovering in a hospital would love to receive a loving “get well” gift from loved ones, the woman in this poem is quite bothered by them, preferring to be left alone in the still whiteness in her room. Plath uses two colors, white and red in her poem to symbolize her struggles within herself.

The woman in the poem first notes that her hospital room is very white like winter, that it’s very quiet and “snowed-in”, that the tulips which were brought it are “too excitable” for her winter room. She is propped up in her bed with pillows which from this vantage point, she cannot help but take everything in. She mentions the many nurses in her room and cannot determine how many of them are there because they’re constantly busy and doing “things with their hands.” In the third stanza within her poem, she states that: My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water

Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently. They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep. Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage – –
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.
This stanza brings forward what the woman in the poem is struggling with; it states that she does not need the baggage that she had before, such as her leather suitcase, or her husband and child who she sees in a family photo placed next to her bed. The woman also states that the tulips upset and oppress her, which feel like “a dozen red lead sinkers round [her] neck” (Plath 42).

The woman’s struggle in the poem is between the tulips encouragement towards life and her desire for the easiness of death. The whiteness and sterility of the hospital room allows her to overlook the complications and pains of living. She does not have to worry about the pressures in life and worry for her family; usually the picture of her husband and child would encourage someone to hang onto their life, but in this poem she sees it as another annoying encouragement. The authors’ use of white is very telling of what the woman in the poem is going through as white represents freedom and tranquility. The whiteness of the nurses’ caps, the pillow which she rests on, and the walls of the hospital room creates a peaceful and serene world which separates her mind and body from her depressed reality. The color white represents many things, such as being the “color of new beginnings, wiping the slate clean, so to speak. It is the blank canvas waiting to be written upon. While white isn’t stimulating to the senses, it opens the way for the creation of anything the mind can conceive” as stated from the website, empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com.

The red color of the tulips offers us some more incite of the woman’s inner struggle as the red color symbolizes a readiness to take action and a warm and positive color which is associated with our will to survive. The tulips represent the living and colorful world which pulls the woman back to her painful reality which she is not ready to confront by bringing warmth and noise to a white cell. The red of the tulips also is the color of her wound and her heart which is mentioned in the last stanza along with a warmness in her words that was not expressed earlier in the poem: Before they came the air was calm enough,

Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of ref blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health (Plath 50-63).

Some have stated that the poem was written by Sylvia Plath about a bouquet of tulips she received while she was recovering from an appendectomy in the hospital. Regardless, the choice the woman must make is to either embrace death or to painfully return to life. It seems that in the end, she chooses to fight for life instinctively in the same aspect that her heart beats instinctively. It is safe to assume that the tulips brought her back to life, and without them, she would have remained in her bed enjoying her lifelessness. An ironic thing about the tulips is that they save her by torturing her, forcing her to provoke a truth that she would have ignored.

Works Cited

Plath, Sylvia. “Poems & Poets – Tulips.” Poetry Foundation. 2013. 30 Jul. 2013. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178974>. “The Color White.” Empower Yourself with Color Psychology. 31 Jul. 2013. <http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/color-white.html>.

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