Compare the Ways in which Plath and Larkin explore ideas about Parenthood in their poems

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Beccy McClure


Compare the Ways in which Plath and Larkin explore ideas about Parenthood in their poems.

Both Plath and Larkin wrote in the mid 20th century, and as such watched the forefront of the women’s rights movement. However, Plath committed suicide in 1963, before the ‘women’s liberation’ and consequently had a more imprisoned view of motherhood. Plath herself was a mother to two children, and consequently had a more realistic grasp of being a parent, whereas Larkin never married, and consequently bases his parenthood poems around ideas and concept.  

One of Larkin’s most famous poems relating to parenthood is ‘Self’s the Man’. His overpowering theme is of the dilution of ones self once having children. He reflected that being a parent weakened you as an individual, through such phrases as ‘He has no time at all’, which reflects the opinion that parents lose their life, and have to live through their children. However, he admits that he ‘is more selfish than Arnold’ because his only demand is for himself, which could also relate to the concept of marriage, also mentioned in this poem. This poem infers that children are a sacrifice of life but says that marriage couple are selfish in that they only marry for society’s sake, ‘he married a woman to stop her getting away’, which suggests an indication of oppression of female individuality as well. However, Larkin then goes on to suggest an oppression of the husband; ‘Arnold’ has no voice or opinion throughout the poem, although neither does the ‘wife’, who through not having a name is relegated to being an object rather than a person. This indicates that the poem views marriage and parenthood as an oppression of freedom.

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Plath approaches parenthood more directly, with a poem composed about her son. In ‘You’re’, she not only sees the child, but the potential of it, through phrases such as ‘high riser’ and ‘feet to the stars’. Although these excerpts could be taken literally, as she was pregnant with him at the time, I believe they refer to his future, and her hopes and dreams, as both phrases ‘high riser’ and ‘to the stars’ are metaphors for being able to do anything, to become as successful as possible. Because of this, the poem could also be taken as a prayer ...

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