Blast From the Plath – the Effects of Sylvia Plath’s Traumatic Experiences

In a majority of Sylvia Plath’s writing, it is apparent that she had depression because of her tone, symbolism, and imagery within her poems and short stories. Because Sylvia Plath faced a lot of obstacles throughout her life, her internal struggles were shown in her writing. This began when he father died in 1940. His death is highlighted in her poem, Daddy, when she says, “Bit my pretty red heart in two/ I was ten when they buried you/ At twenty I tried to die/ And get back, back, back to you/ I thought even the bones would do.” When Plath was 20, she attempted suicide by slashing her legs, as said in the poem. After her first suicide attempt, she was treated with electroconvulsive therapy for her major depression. Unfortunately, the therapy did not help her. Plath continued to suffer throughout her life especially during her marriage to famous writer, Ted Hughes. Hughes had an affair with another woman while married to Plath which is rumored to have contributed greatly to her depression and even cause Plath’s suicide in 1963, ten years after her first suicide attempt. Plath gassed herself in her own kitchen after being clinically depressed for most of her adult life. Many of Sylvia Plath’s now famous poems address the struggles that she had to face throughout her life up until her death.

When Sylvia Plath committed suicide, all of her poetry and short stories began to make sense. Most of them revolved around the conflicts she faced in life. Since her death, literary audiences have begun seeing her poetry as a reflection of her suffering.

Mark Wunderlich writes in his article, Laying Blame: The Legacy of Sylvia Plath, “How was it that we had come to see her creative work as a sort of extended suicide note rather than as the work of an emerging poet whose career and output had been cut short by a tragic, early death?” Because Plath tragically committed suicide at the peak of her career, most people take her suicide into account when reading her work. Before her death, however, the real messages Plath was portraying were almost hidden from the reader’s eye. For example, in her poem entitled Wintering, on the surface it seemed like a poem about her experience with beekeeping, a hobby that she had taken up, and how it related to modern feminism. However, In the last stanza Plath writes, “Will the hive survive/ Will the gladiolas succeed in banking their fires/ To enter another year?/ What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?/ The bees are flying. They taste the spring.” This poem has a dreary tone that predicts a hopeless future. However, at the end, it talks about seeing spring once again. The winter was a long season to endure and there was no hope of survival and growth, yet spring will come again. This shows that Plath was indeed hoping for spring to come again. She had felt like she was in a long winter that was endlessly draining her. She emphasizes that despite all of that, she was still hopeful that one day everything around her will blossom and create a positive atmosphere for herself.

After Sylvia Plath’s death, she became a more famous and independent writer. For a majority of their marriage, Plath lived in the shadows of her husband, Ted Hughes. However, after all the published work that addresses her marriage with Hughes, it was almost impossible to read her work without thinking of him. In fact, Pamela R. Matthews points out in her article, Sylvia Plath Hughes: The Middle Ground in the New Millennium,  “Whether this strategy is a stroke of self-serving genius or a genuine search for the meanings of a complicated relationship, after Birthday Letters, it has seemed impossible to talk about Plath in isolation; Hughes must be taken into account.” Birthday Letters by Hughes was published in 1998 many years after the death of Plath. This story highlighted the problems within their marriage that were apparent in the poems written by Plath. In this story he broke silence and leaked facts about their complicated relationship. He even says in it, “nobody wanted your dance. Nobody wanted your strange glitter/ your floundering drowning life/ and your effort to save yourself/ Treading water/ Dancing the dark turmoil/ Looking for something to give.” It is palpable that Plath was in a depressing situation based on what he writes about her. Clearly she was never appreciated or encouraged to grow in her relationship with Hughes. In order for a person to flourish they need to be constantly reassured with love, encouragement, and admiration. Clearly she was not receiving any of those. Matthews also writes that, “Since that publication, it has seemed impossible to talk about Plath on her own, without ‘her husband’.” This shows the lack of independence that Plath had. The literary community can now understand why she felt so constrained in her relationship with Hughes.

It was because of the impediments from her marriage and different problems throughout her life that Plath created what people today call, “confessional poetry.” Charles Molesworth in his article, With Your Own Face On: Confessional Poetry, says that “a somnambulistic strian drifts through the tones of the confessional poet. This finds its fullest expression in Sylvia Plath, of course, where the voice of narcotic numbness mixes with a sort of slow-motion hallucination in poems.” The first insight that we get into her confessional poetry and her strain for life itself is in her infamous poem, Ariel. This poem was featured in a book also entitled Ariel which was published by Ted Hughes after her death. This book of poems offers a lot of clarity to her situation facing depression and the ending of her life. In Ariel, she paints a vivid picture for the reader by opening the poem with, “stasis in darkness/ Then the substanceless blue/ Pour of tor and distances.” Through her use of imagery, the reader is shown a scene of darkness that evolves into a red morning sky as the poem ends with, “into the red eye/ The cauldron of morning.” At the beginning of the poem, Plath, which is who we assume is the speaker, seems fearful of what is to come from the dark sky. Then she is jerked and “hauled through the air” on a crazy gallop through the wind. She develops a sense of appreciation for everything surrounding her as she, “unpeels” from the earth and then she loses control and has “dead hands, dead stringencies.” She talks about leaving her children when she says “the child’s cry/ melts in the wall/ and I/ Am the arrow/ The dew that flies.” She abruptly ends the poem when she says she is, “Suicidal, at one with the drive.” Because of the content of this poem, the reader can comprehend how she really felt and that she desperately wanted to commit suicide. This poem showed the incidents that she encountered which gave the audience a peek of the horrible psychological impact they had on her.

Sylvia Plath clearly encountered many obstacles throughout her life that stunted her growth into the individual she wanted to become. Her writing is the best source of proof since she writes of the many instances pertaining to the reasons she had depression. After reading poems that profoundly addressed the pain she was feeling and also reading the insights of critical sources, it is no wonder she committed suicide. Good writers write about their personal struggles and relate to their audience, but the best writers die trying to do so.

 

Research:

Matthews, Pamela R. “Sylvia Plath Hughes: The Middle Ground in the New Millennium.” South Central Review, vol. 23, no. 3, 2006, pp. 89–93. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40039946.

Molesworth, Charles. “With Your Own Face On’: Confessional Poetry.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, edited by Kathy D. Darrow, vol. 258, Gale, 2012. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 30 Apr. 2018. Originally published in The Fierce Embrace: A Study of Contemporary American Poetry, University of Missouri Press, 1979, pp. 61-76.

Plath, S. (1960). Ariel.

Plath S. (1960) Daddy.

Hughes, T. (1998) Birthday Letters.
Wunderlich, Mark. “Laying Blame: The Legacy of Sylvia Plath.Ebscohost.com, Accessed 30 Apr. 2018. 1 Sept. 2013,

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