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Critical appreciation of the poem "Old Ladies' Home" by Sylvia Plath with reference to the presentation of old age

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Introduction

Dealing with old age and loneliness can be both complicated and perplexing. Sylvia Plath shows us this through her poem "Old Ladies' Home, where she shares her views on the harsh reality of growing into old age and awaiting death alone. In this poem, the omniscient speaker employs a detached tone to describe the old ladies in the home as fragile, lifeless and neglected. The poem takes place in a home for aged women, as can be inferred from the title of the poem and contains several images and metaphors that bring out the poem's main theme of death. Several symbols are used to represent death in this poem. A few such examples would be "black fabric", "ghosts" and "coffins". These symbols present death as dull and eerie, rather than as the celebration of a life well lived, hence building a sombre and gloomy atmosphere in the poem. This in turn reflects the old ladies' melancholic state as they await their death in the home. Death, for these old women, is also presented as being unpredictable and as an issue that lingers in their mind every night. ...read more.

Middle

Hence old age is presented as a period of fragility and weakness. The speaker also presents old age as a time plagued with loneliness. The word "antique" is usually used to describe something that was made in early times but is still valued for its age and rarity. However, these women are not valued for their wisdom and experience. Instead, they are seen as a burden, which probably explains why they are in an elderly home and not under the care of their own family. The women also appear to be lacking the warmth of love and care in their lives. The black dresses that the old ladies wear suggests that they are mostly widows. Hence, they "creep out" to seek the warmth of the sun on rocks and walls "whose stones keep a little heat". They seek warmth for their bodies to symbolically make up for the coldness that they feel within themselves, brought about by an absence of the warmth of human companionship. The personification of the wall as can be observed in the use of the terms "whose" and "keep" in reference to it, adding to the effect. ...read more.

Conclusion

When the poem uses "rust-red" and "green as lichens", it is referring to old age because rust and lichens do not appear over night. They are usually seen in things that are old, worn out or unused. The poem is structured in 3, 7-line stanzas with 7 syllables in each line. This, along with the presence of run-on lines that force the reader to move on to the next line helps the overall flow of the poem. The simple, repetitive structure of each line, which at times flows on makes it sound like a story, can be said to be reflective of the old ladies simplistic and routine life. The purpose of the poem is to show us that the old women feel neglected and lack meaning and purpose in their life when they are uncared for and left all alone in elderly homes. This makes them feel unwanted and as a result, they are left with nothing to look forward to except death. However, these old women do not grumble and accept everything as part and parcel of life. ...read more.

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

4 star(s)

This is a good essay, demonstrating understanding of and engagement with the poem. Detailed analysis is evident throughout, using appropriate quotes to support points. There are a few points for improvement:
1) The structure of the poem needed more attention.
2) Phonological devices could have been explored in detail as a separate point.
3) Although not always necessary, contextual observations can provide another insight into the poem. Writing as a mid-twentieth century American woman, Plath might be providing social comment on how some societies treat their elderly female relatives and citizens.

Overall, four stars ****

Marked by teacher Lucy Foss 23/07/2013

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