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Plath's Fever 103 analysis

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Introduction

Sylvia Plath's poem "Fever 103" is a figurative journey from Hell to a kind of Purgatory to a kind of Heaven. It is also, more secularly, an illustration of a spiritual cleansing or purification amidst a very high fever, which the woman speaking the poem is engulfed in. Plath begins the poem by asking, "Pure? What does it mean?" (Plath, 78), as if she had been having a conversation, and whoever she was speaking with had mentioned the word. The word is what evidently triggers the rest of the poem. The poem's speaker first thinks of Hell, and a vision of Hell is described, including an allusion to the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the underworld, Cerebus: "The tongues of hell / Are dull, dull as the triple / Tongues of dull, fat Cerebus / Who wheezes at the gate. Incapable / Of licking clean / The aguey tendon, the sin, the sin." (78) "Sin" is repeated to reinforce the heaviness of it, and its perpetuality. ...read more.

Middle

The sin." (79) "Sin" is repeated once again to make sure it is indelibly imprinted on the reader's mind, perhaps to produce an unnerving effect, and to bring the focus back from death to sin. And "Hiroshima ash" (as well as "radiation" earlier), is a reference to the aftereffects of the atomic bomb that dropped on Japan and ended World War II. The speaker might be comparing the suffering sin inflicts on those involved to the suffering of those affected by the bomb in Hiroshima. Then, all of a sudden, the poem's gaze shifts to the speaker herself, lying in bed and burning with fever, too sick to even drink anything. "Darling," she says, effectively confirming that she has been speaking to a lover all along, "All night / I have been flickering, off, on, off, on. / The sheets grow heavy as a lecher's kiss. / Three days. Three nights. / Lemon water, chicken / Water, water make me retch." (79) She depicts the sheets as heavy as a "lecher's kiss" to again call the sinful to mind, and the repetition this time contributes to the delirious feeling of the fever. ...read more.

Conclusion

"I think I am going up, / I think I may rise ?-/ The beads of hot metal fly, and I, love, I / Am a pure acetylene / Virgin" (79). "Virgin" is secluded into its own line to impose the loftiness and the all-encompassing importance of the thought. She sees her new virginal self as "attended by" flowers, angels, and not lustful caresses, but, significantly, only kisses - examples of pure beauty: "Roses, / By kisses, by cherubim, / By whatever these pink things mean." (79-80) She rejects the hurtful bodies of men that contrast these pure examples of beauty by further clarifying that she is attended by, "Not you, nor him. / Not him, nor him" (80), nor any man on earth. Finally, at the end of the poem, Plath's character experiences a vision of her shedding her worldly identity and her past sins, which used to dress her like scarves or "petticoats" dress a woman, once and for all. She reaches Heaven, or a place like Heaven, as a result: "(My selves dissolving, old whore petticoats) ?- / To Paradise." (80) ...read more.

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