The Amazing Individuality of the Life and Works of Sylvia Plath
Until her death in 1963, Sylvia Plath’s life could be described as quite successful. Plath was a true accomplished writer, wife, and mother of two. Her story began on the 27th of October of 1932, where she was born in Boston, Massachusetts. However, her life tragically ended in February 11, 1963, on a very cold winter day when her second suicide attempt was unfortunately successful. When Plath was about eight years old, her first poem was published. A few years later, her career in writing commenced and she rapidly began to write many great poems still affecting readers and critics today.
Her poems were published in several different collections, which each volume reflected on a different stage in her life. Even Plath’s own friends were often surprised with the effect of anger, isolation, and confusion instilled in The Colossus, Ariel, Crossing the Water, and Winter Trees, her four volumes of poetry (Martin 2). Her style of writing, which was used in all her works, included the use of rhyme, versatility of form, and a vast word choice. Amazingly enough, Sylvia Plath was able to enrich us with a semi-fictional novel, The Bell Jar, which reflected Plath’s life and hardships through a fictional character, Esther Greenwood.
The Bell Jar was finally published in 1963, a month before her death, under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas. Plath had written under that pseudonym due to the fact that she did not think the novel was serious work. After reviewing the novel, Plath was accused of being careless and self-centered (Hardwick 1). Her book was said to have been too brutal about certain people, including Plath’s father (Howe 1).
The Bell Jar sets an obvious example of Plath’s writing styles and techniques. Plath had once stated that each time she wrote a poem she had a “magnificent experience. Sometimes she would go onto writing rampages and write about two to three poems a day, and other times her poems would take weeks. “Mirror,” was by far one of the best poems written to illustrate the American theme of the search for freedom and individuality. In every literary work, especially in The Bell Jar, the struggle for identity and liberty is quite illustrated. Plath was one of the few women that refused to follow the tradition of most women writers. She did not disguise her aggression, hostility, and despair in her art. She was a true pioneer and pathfinder (Martin 5).
The Bell Jar depicted the life of Esther Greenwood and her rite of passage from girl to woman. This novel was one of the few that fearlessly chronicled the life of an intelligent woman who struggled in the world to discover the function of existence (Martin 2). The story began with Esther as an intern at a fashion magazine, quite parallel to Plath’s internship at Mademoiselle. As the story progressed, Esther decided that she needed to live life on her own and was drastically devastated when she came home to Boston and learned that she had not been accepted to a writing program at Harvard.
She eventually became morbidly depressed and tried to kill herself with sleeping pills just as Plath had attempted her first time. Esther was quickly admitted into a private facility where she met Joan Gilling. At the facility Esther once again went under shock treatment very afraid that it would be just like the time before her suicide attempt. Joan finally left the institution but soon returned after having to take Esther to the hospital due a severe hemorrhage that occurred after having sex. Not much long after, Joan was declared missing and was soon found dead as she had hanged herself.
Before long, Esther was prepared to leave, but quite scared to face the world ahead. However, with an optimistic outlook she left the hospital “patched, retreated, and approved for the road (Plath 275). ” Plath’s ability to express her hostility in her writings and the fact that she refused to follow the standard that women should never be angry, deviated her from the traditional norms (Martin 3). There are many other examples in The Bell Jar that explain the character and the true feelings of Sylvia Plath.
It is more difficult to reveal what is not true from the factual details of her life. Instead of viewing Plath as a wonderful independent writer, some critics only distinguish her agitated and morbid side. Failing to understand how traumatizing the death of Plath’s father was to her, critics condemn her fascination with hurt and damage and implied how sadistic and self indulgent it was to publish The Bell Jar (Hardwick 1). The writing of this novel might have been an attempt for Plath to relieve herself from her manic depression.
However, it is sadly obvious that it did not heal her, but left her more depressive than before (Ames 7). While Plath’s descriptive poem “Mirror,” leaves the reader perplexed with a question of what is exactly being described, it still reveals the speaker’s identity. It can be concluded that Plath purposely gave the poem an ambiguous purpose, which was to literally describe a mirror while metaphorically describing poetry itself (Johnson 1). The first line “I am silver and exact/I have no preconceptions,” reveals how Plath has used personification to give a stronger feeling to an inanimate object.
She gives the mirror the capacity to “meditate” and to be non-judgmental, which also differentiates it from a human. Her poem, which is divided into two stanzas, has a metaphor within another. The mirror, which describes the reflection of a human being or poetry itself, is also figuratively being described as a lake. The way the poem looked written also appears that the two stanzas are mirror images of one another, reflecting the same size and the “four cornered” shape (Johnson 4). The poet can also imply that instead of looking in too deeply for another meaning, the poem also has the obvious meaning.
Such as, the woman who looks constantly at the mirror and views herself over the years trying to discover whether or not the image she sees is really what she thinks it might be. In order to criticize or praise Sylvia Plath’s works, I believe it is imperative to understand the hardships she went through. The Bell Jar was a wonderful book that truly moved me. Instead of carping at the morbid details that Plath chose to use, I admired how she had the courage to write about the personal occurrences in the book. It is very important to me that there are few women that are to be different and they are the ones that open doors to all of the scared women in this world. Whether or not people choose to see Plath or her work as a failure, I perceive it as the fact that she ended her life at her most creative peak. “Mirror” was actually a very pleasant poem compared to other melancholic ones like “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” which were posthumously published in her volume Ariel. Even though it is very hard to perceive it as a metaphor for poetry itself, I agree that in “Mirror” Plath purposely indicated that it had deeper meaning other than just reflect a person’s image.
As one of my personal favorites, I see myself as that woman and believe that all human beings can relate to that poem. To judge a poet, is not only a difficult task, but a very controversial one. It is evident that it is always a matter of personal opinion. However, it can be concluded that regardless of a unpleasant or respectable critic, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and “Mirror” continue to affect readers and critics of modern day, while illustrating the writer’s search for freedom and individualism.
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