from Prisma - Friday, February 14, 2003
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“Seizing a mythical power, the Plath of the poems transmutes the domestic and ordinary into the hallucinatory, the utterly strange.”
The above statement is everything that makes Plath’s poetry captivating, tragic and strange all at the same time. She translates her feelings of utter despair into something amazingly unique and bizarre. Her poems are emotionally tormenting because they are so autobiographical and express her unbridled feelings and thoughts of her very troubled self. Her poem “Daddy” is especially troubling as she expresses so much anger and resentment toward her father who left her alone to face the troubles of her life absent of his presence and guidance. I believe she blames her father for a number of difficulties she had while growing up without a father figure after the age of 8 years old. I felt the poem “Daddy” demonstrated how deserted and alone she felt when her father’s premature death took place, she seems to be holding him at fault and resenting him for dying. I would speculate that perhaps her father was suicidal in not attempting to care for his serious condition of diabetes; his death could have been looked upon as extremely selfish in her eyes simply because of his unwillingness to care for his worsening health condition. Plath is a troubled soul and is clearly lost in the depth of her thoughts and unresolved feelings of anger, resentment, despair and depression. After reading the poem “Daddy” I felt such empathy for Plath as I can only imagine the piercing emotions that emerge from her writings as she expresses her darkest, loneliest and most vulnerable feelings and thoughts.
In her poem “Purdah,” she sounds less tragic and depressed but nonetheless the essence of “Purdah” tells me that she is feeling trapped by her life as a wife and as a mother. I felt perhaps her use of the various birds such as the “purdah,” “parakeets” and the “peacock” was not accidental. She is indeed like a bird whose very nature demands that she fly and live freely, however she is trapped in a birdcage and her wings are clipped so that she may become domesticated and controlled. Women’s roles were influenced by the social norms of society and there was much pressure for talented, career-driven women to marry and have children. I believe this is a common theme in Plath’s poetry and these types of poems express her stance against the stereotypical roles women were pressured into taking.
I shall unloose –
From the small jeweled
Doll he guards like a heart –
The shriek in the bath,
The cloak of holes.
“The Applicant” reads as a more controlled poem in my opinion, however Plath is still protesting (as she should) and is expressing the emotional and physical condition of the female role in society at that time; she describes the role of the wife, which she refers to in “The Applicant” as “a living doll.”
But in twenty-five years she’ll be silver,
In fifty, gold.
A living doll, everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk, talk”
The reference to “It” is in itself an insult and further stressing that women in that era were looked upon as possessions of their husband rather than actual independent and intelligent thinkers; women had an equal right and intellectual ability to take on the male-dominated roles of working for a living. Women have the right to choose between a life unfulfilling and unchallenging of the soul, body and mind or a life where they are seen as counterparts and as co-workers and not as prized possessions or “living dolls.” I very much admire Plath and other writers and poets in her time that used their talent and eloquence in their writings to bring about change in society. Plath’s words are moving and inspire me to realize that while our so-called modern society has changed so much in the last 50 years we still need to look forward and be open-minded to more change. I can only hope that in my lifetime I will be privileged to encounter new brilliance that can even come close to Plath and her generation of genius writers. I felt that Plath was courageous in her expressions even though dark and alone, her brilliance and emotion relate to so many different people who experience severe depression and loneliness. She doesn’t seem to be hiding a single thought and that is what makes Plath so appealing to me. In her inability to finally live with the intricacy of her depressive condition and her own thoughts she has an amazing ability to express those feelings in a way that make those dark and lonely thoughts seem intriguing and beautiful.
The following is a link to the biography of Sylvia Plath as well a few selections of some of her poems, including “Daddy.”