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Thursday, 19 April 2012

Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath has been called a heroine, a cult figure, even a goddess, but beneath the fa├žade lies a delicate woman, a mother, and a literary genius. The subject matter of her work revolved around a few elemental aspects of her short life her illness, her parents, and her family, all of which she cleverly masked in her works. Plath took the quote, We only begin to live when we conceive life as tragedy… (McCullough 6), to center in her writing, using strong images and symbols to represent her personal tragedy and to convey herself through her writing. After her death, people began to discover in her work a shocking revelation of extremist elements parallel to her life and what she wrote in her poems and books.


Sylvia Plath was born on October 7, 1, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts to Otta and Aurelia Plath. When Sylvia was eight years old, Otta passed away, due to undiagnosed diabetes. Her father’s death scarred her permanently. “I’ll never speak to God again.” (McCullough 6) After her father’s death, Sylvia was virtually impeccable in every way. At the age of eight, she wrote a poem called, “About what I see and Hear on Hot Summer Nights,” it was her first publication. In Junior high, she continued to write and would publish her poems in the school newspaper. In her high school years, Plath consistently received good grades and earned recognition. Plath graduated in 150, where she graduated first in her class. After high school, she kept submitting her writing to numerous periodicals. Time after time the rejection slips would come, sometimes causing Plath to begin doubting her abilities and fearing she has lost her talent. Throughout college, she developed periodic bouts of depression, insomnia and also thoughts of suicide, as evidence in her journals “To annihilate the world by annihilation of one’s self is the deluded height of desperation egoism. The simple way out of all the little brick dead ends we scratch our nails against… I want to kill myself, to escape from responsibility, to crawl back abjectly into the womb.” (McCullough 6) In June, the disappointment of learning that she had not been accepted to a particularly desired course at Harvard Summer School led her to lose concentration. On July , she was not able to write and she developed severe insomnia. On August 4, 15, Sylvia entered a crawl space under the porch through the cellar and swallowed about forty pills. Syliva was found on the 6th, dazed but alive. She was treated with intense psychotherapy an electroshock therapy in a private hospital. This incident was well described in The Bell Jar. June 16, 156, Sylvia married British poet, Ted Hughes. She gave birth to two children, a boy and a girl, named Nicholas and Frieda. In October of 161, she submitted the manuscript of her novel, The Bell Jar. May of 16, she began to write a sequel to The Bell Jar, which told the story of a young American girl in England who fell in love and married. Her plan was to present Ted with the rough draft for his birthday in August but in early July, Plath found out that her husband was cheating her so she took the manuscript and threw it in the fire. In one of her final poems she wrote Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. (From “Lady Lazarus” McCullough 17) In mid-January The Bell Jar was published in England and got great reviews, yet Plath’s depression worsened, as her friends and physician witnessed. (Kendall118) It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents joyous positive and despairing negative -- which ever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it. I am now flooded with despair, almost hysteria, as if I were smothering. As if a great muscular owl were sitting on my chest, its talons clenching & constricting my heart. (Bloom 74) In the early morning of February 11, 16, Plath set some bread and milk in the children’s room, and then cracked their window and sealed their door off with tape. She went downstairs and, after sealing herself in the kitchen, knelt in front of the open oven and turned the gas on. Her body was discovered that morning.


Syliva Plath grew up during the 140s through the 150’s, which was a strange time for women. World War II brought a quick end to the Depression and unemployment. With millions of men away at war, women joined the labor force in unprecedented numbers. By 144, a record 5 percent of women were in the labor force, including a quarter of all married women. Many of these working women had to juggle outside employment with household duties. Women were urged to maintain their focus on family and home, even if most of their day was spent in a war factory. The increasing number of women going to college ought to receive better instruction in household management so they would be ready for the day when they gave up their careers for marriage. The ideal wife, according to popular magazines, was intelligent and well-educated, could cook delicious meals, did housework efficiently, and spent lots of time nurturing her children. (Kibler 84) And then along came the 50s, and everything that happened in the 40s for women were basically turned on its head.


Sylvia Plath contributed to the literary time period in many ways. She showed that women can work as hard as men and can achieve the same recognition. Also, she spoke out against the restriction roles of women and herself through the eyes of Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar. For example, she relates sexuality to violence against women. In addition, Sylvia Plath explains thoroughly that Esther feels pulled between her desire to write, and the pressure she feels to become the “ideal woman,” to settle down and start a family. Esther’s intellectual talents earn her prizes, scholarships, and respect, and many people assume that she wants to become a wife and mother. The girls at her college mock her studiousness and only show her respect when she begins dating a handsome boy. The 50s were a time when women could only be respected, if they were with a man; their talent was ignored.


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Critics viewed her literary reputation rests mainly on her carefully crafted pieces of poetry, particularly the verse that she composed in the months leading up to her death. Plath has been considered a deeply honest writer, whose ceaseless self-scrutiny has given a unique point of view to psychological disorder and to the theme of the feminist-martyr in a patriarchal society. “Sylvia Plath is one of the most famous and talented of American poets of the 0th century. Miss Plath is writing not about any earthly success. She is writing about yet another suicide attempt. Previously she had written a novel, The Bell Jar, about an earlier attempt, also unsuccessful, to take her own life. Eventually, on the third try, she succeeded. She turned on the gas oven in her home, put her head in it and, despite two children and a husband, ended her life.


In the book, The Bell Jar, it had many connections to her life. For example, in the book, it described a young woman named Esther Greenwood, who is a brilliant scholar, and was accepted to write for a magazine in Chicago. This relates to Plath because the exact event happened to her. Also, Plath battled with herself in the same way as Esther in trying to determine whether to be the “expected” woman with a family or pursue her dream of being a writer. Esther soon became depressed because of this confusion and took many attempts to kill herself. Again, this relates to Plath. Plath wrote all her feelings through the eyes of Esther Greenwood, how she felt as though she was trapped under a bell jar and the way women were supposed to be in the 150s.


Overall, Sylvia Plath’s life was a depressed eccentric. . Just six months before her death, she wrote of her feeling… “…outcast on a cold star, unable to feel anything but an awful helpless numbness. I look down into the warn, earthy world. Into a nest of lovers’ beds, baby cribs, meal tables, all the solid commerce of life in this earth, and feel apart, enclosed in a wall of glass.” (Stevenson 80) Plath’s world had become too much for her to take, so she turned to suicide. It was an act which made her famous, perhaps even more famous than she might have been if she had lived.





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