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AS and A Level: Sylvia Plath

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Common errors when writing about Sylvia Plath

  1. 1 When writing about both the poetry and the prose, remember to write about technique as well as content.
  2. 2 Avoid sweeping generalisations about social attitudes, conventions and gender relationships in the 1950s and 1960s.
  3. 3 Avoid giving the impression that Plath’s work is entirely autobiographical. It may well be based on actual events in her life, but the process of creative writing always involves an element of transformation.
  4. 4 Check your quotations carefully. Misquotations or quotations which make only partial sense never impress the marker.
  5. 5 The author should be referred to as Plath or Sylvia Plath, not Sylvia.

Writing about Plath's poetry

  1. 1 Plath’s poetry is often densely metaphorical and sometimes obscure. It is acceptable to acknowledge this, and offer tentative or alternative interpretations.
  2. 2 Most students comment on Plath’s arresting use of simile and metaphor.
  3. 3 You should also consider alliteration, assonance and repetition in addition to looking at regular and irregular rhyme schemes, rhythmic variation and variety of verse forms.

Writing about 'The Bell Jar'

  1. 1 ‘The Bell Jar’ is best described as semi-fictionalised. Do not assume it is a fully autobiographical account of Plath’s experiences.
  2. 2 Consider the tone of the novel as well as its content. Useful words to describe the variety of tone in the novel include: conversational, humorous, detached, ironic, fragmented, bleak, and introspective.
  3. 3 Consider paragraph length and how Plath uses it to reflect the content and mood.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 5
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  1. Marked by a teacher

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

    4 star(s)

    For example, the last stanza of the poem says, "And Death, that bald-head buzzard, / Stalls in halls where the lamp wick/ Shortens with each breath drawn." Metaphor is used here to compare death to the buzzard which is a scavenging bird, similar to the vulture. Death is described as something that lurks within the home, waiting for the right time to swoop down like a buzzard and engulf the lives of the old women when they go to sleep on their beds, which are "boxed-in like coffins".

    • Word count: 1134
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Analyse the poem "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath

    4 star(s)

    This ties in with the shoe point made earlier - her father seems a tyrant, overbearing and forceful. The poet describes herself as "poor and white". At the time of the poem's writing (1962) the Civil Rights movement was starting to gain momentum. "Poor and white" may be an allusion to the "white trash" of the time. The elitist white people would have nothing to do with them, as they were socially unacceptable, and the black people wouldn't accept them because they were white (of course, this replies in reverse.)

    • Word count: 1943
  3. Marked by a teacher

    Sylvia Plath,

    4 star(s)

    The metaphor of 'black shoe' possibly used to denote a person, suggests a stifling image. The speaker claims to have lived in that shoe, almost as if unwillingly trapped. While it suggests a sort of protection, the colour imagery of black, which is a recurring motif in the poem, connotes to negativity: death, even decaying. This could further be interpreted to suggest that Plaths own voice is accusing her father of having trapped her by his sudden death; she is almost disclosing her great weakness before him even after his death and again returns to the initial idea of conflict and confusion.

    • Word count: 1715
  4. Marked by a teacher

    Spinster- A Commentary

    3 star(s)

    Then, in stanza two, Plath stays detached from the poem, and the whole stanza implies disorder. 'Observed' suggests that the woman in the poem was watching from a distance, and therefore the writing is very detached and as if a step has been taken back in order to see things as a whole. Also, the whole stanza implies disorder with lexis such as 'unbalanced', 'uneven', 'wilderness' and 'disarray', all of which suggest disarray and no order. Almost all of these words are relating to nature, 'Through a rank wilderness of fern and flower/She judged petals in disarray' The use of 'rank wilderness' implies that the female persona believes that nature, shown by the 'fern and flower' is dirty and scary because she does not know anything abut it, as implied by 'wilderness'.

    • Word count: 1096
  5. Marked by a teacher

    Present the way in which imprisonment is presented in 'The Bell Jar' The bell jar is an inverted glass jar, generally used to display an object of scientific curiosity

    3 star(s)

    The task given to the reader is to try to figure out why Esther is so filled with conflict, so alienated. She herself says, "I was supposed to be having the time of my life." So why is she so miserable with her success? Why does she feel the need to invent another name for herself, "Elly Higginbottom"? Why does she try to be pals with Doreen? Why does Esther avoid her magazine work if she really does like her boss, Jay Cee?

    • Word count: 1959
  6. Sylvia Plath, in the poems, Daddy and Lady Lazarus displays the different relationships of a woman in her life, with various men, such as father and husband, in order for the poems to have universal significance.

    She uses metaphors and symbolism to shows the different types of relationships, women share with different men and how they impact their lives. An example of this is seen in "Daddy", where she writes "Every woman adores a Fascist", which display women as victims of men. Though the use of this metaphor, it is symbolised that women are the victims of n**i men and they are presented as willing victims, therefore raising the question of how much women's victimisation is their fault.

    • Word count: 595
  7. An evaluation of Sylvia Plath`s poetry concerning pregnancy and motherhood

    She may be unsure of this love however, as the poetic synaesthesia of, 'your bald cry' shows the confusion of audible and visual senses, and this could represent Plath`s sense of love for the child interacting with the fear she showed before the birth in The Manor Garden, 'a difficult borning.' This confusion is probably rather typical of a new mother, as the birth of a child would signify an inescapable life altering change, something difficult to prepare for. In the second stanza the deictic pronouns used create a distance between Plath and the baby, 'Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival,' and this is amplified through her analogy of the baby as a statue in a museum, 'New statue.

    • Word count: 935
  8. The poem Two Sisters of Persephone by Sylvia Plath is a truly remarkable piece that I greatly enjoyed reading. This piece is filled with numerous symbols, allegories, and images that stand out

    She ties in the thoughts of problems, darkness, and un-fruitful work to the character of the first sister. The poem then suddenly twists into a brighter and warmer mood when Plath starts talking about the second sister. At first sight, the words trick us into believing she is truly happy and peaceful. Words like 'lulled', and 'bright air', bring a positive connotation to the second sister. When we look at the words carefully, we see that she truly isn't really that happy. When Plath says she was lulled near a bed of poppies, we get the thought that she may be drugged, since poppies are an opiate.

    • Word count: 854
  9. The poem Jilted, written by Sylvia Plath, has its subject based on the disappointment of love which resulted from a female being neglected by her male lover,

    Overall, it is obvious that the tone of this poem is sour and caustic. The title "jilted" is a word that has harsh sound which already hints to readers that the poem is not about any pleasant or happy experiences. In the first stanza, Plath compares her tears to vinegar, which is a substance that is corrosive, pungent, and stinging. The word vinegar shows on a surface level that her relationship was over, emphasizing the fact that she is extremely depressed.

    • Word count: 411
  10. Poetry is often written as a result of reflecting on an intense emotional experience or a significant event.

    The opening line, "You do not do..." is similar to how a parent would tell a child off, but the poet is reversing the role here, and so her anger at her father is shown straight away. The whole of the first verse is an extended metaphor, to convey the poet's anger at feeling trapped all of her life by the death of her father. The line "Barely daring to breathe of Achoo." shows how this has given her a sense of claustrophobia, not being able to escape from a "black shoe" "black" appearing throughout the poem, giving connotations of evil, the poet exaggerates in order to express her feelings on her father, and her anger at his death.

    • Word count: 1485
  11. Commentary on Plath's A Commentary on Plaths The Surgeon at 2am

    The metaphor 'a lump of Chinese white' for the mask of the patient dehumanises him somewhat; the surgeon is left with a body to play with as opposed to a human being. This idea is furthered with the line 'The soul is another light.': the surgeon deals exclusively with the material and, by the humanisation caused by the mask, hygiene and silence, does not come into contact with the ethereal or profound. As such, this causes contradiction with the previous theme of his higher power, and calls into question the role in which he truly plays within his field of the human body.

    • Word count: 1359
  12. In the poem 'A Poem should not mean but be' the poet causes the reader to question themselves over how they read a poem, how they see it.

    This is what the Poet is trying to get across to the reader of this poem 'Does it work when the word happiness is pronounced?' here right from the start of the poem the Poet asks the question 'Does it work when the word happiness is pronounced?' he is putting this question to the audience forcing them to think does it make it happen?, does it bring it to life?, happiness?. In this quote from the poem the Poet is asking the reader are they really feeling the feeling and emotion which is being expressed in poems when they read them rather than just seeing the words.

    • Word count: 717
  13. Sylvia Plath; The Imperfect Perfectionist.

    She uses reoccurring imagery associated with the three protagonists in her life, and poetry in attempt of breaking free from the chains of a "tortured mind of the heroine". The relationship between Plath and her mother was very ineffectual, or that is how she exemplifies it through the use of her poetry. "Medusa", which is said to be based on her mother is like a fantasy tale gone wrong. Plath creates a grotesque fictional jellyfish like character personified by the character of her mother.

    • Word count: 3248
  14. How does Plath use intricate patterning of sounds, words, images and rhythm to create an impact on the reader?

    This patterning of sounds can also be seen in her other poems. For example in Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper, in which she patterns the 'd' harsh sound to create a faster pace and cutting mood. Plath creates imagery in many of her poems with the use of colour. In Daddy she patterns the use of colour from black and white in the first stanza to black and red in the eleventh and twelfth stanza. The colours black and white are antithetical and when placed in close proximity connote r****m, or in this case fascism.

    • Word count: 957
  15. Re-read 'A Birthday Present'. By means of close analysis of the language of this poem, demonstrate how Plath achieves her effects in this poem, and by means of BRIEF reference to one or two other poems, say how typical of her writing you find it.

    By using this linguistic device Plath creates a 'seesaw' effect between positive ('beautiful') and negative ('ugly') lexis. Plath uses this device of conflicting lexis throughout the poem creating a tension. Furthermore, it can also be said that Plath uses these binary oppositions on a more subtle level to create the theme of good vs. evil. This theme can be seen in some of Plath's other poems. Take 'Face Lift' or 'Morning Song' for example, the theme of good and evil is represented by the images of babies she juxtaposes with those of death.

    • Word count: 729
  16. How powerful is The Bell Jar as a feminist text?

    If they did it was expected that they were looking for a husband. The other girls in Esther's dormitory in college told her she was wasting her "golden college years". Throughout the book, there are many possible role models for Esther, not all of who have a positive influence on her. Jay Cee is an experienced, successful editor at the magazine where Esther has won an internship. Plath writes of Jay Cee as being somewhat masculine. This may have been because at the time only men were successful so she felt for a woman to be successful she had to be manly.

    • Word count: 937
  17. I Wanna Be Special : Plath and n**i Germany.

    Because she writes in this confessional style, those who study her work must become familiar with her past. Confessional poetry is when poets write about their own experiences; thoughts, feelings, and experiences become the basis of the poetry. Thus the poems become an expression of poet's innermost person. Unlike other forms of poetry, confessional takes its material directly from the life of the poet. The tone of Plath's poetry is decidedly depressing. During her life, Plath became suicidal. As a child, she almost drowned, and later attempted to kill herself before actually succeeding. These experiences become strong influences on Plath's poetry.

    • Word count: 1579
  18. Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath.

    Blackberrying as a term exists in Medieval English. It means going toward death and has the additional negative connotation of death without salvation (h**l). The poem opens with a scenario dominated by blackberries so that we gain an impression of delicious blackness everywhere-"nothing , nothing but blackberries." (Line 1) The concept of the twisting lane is created by Plath using an image of "hooks"-bends which the solitary berry- harvester, the poet, cannot see past. We are told the sea is "somewhere at the end of it" (Line 4)and we are exposed to the first nuances of limbo and hopelessness when

    • Word count: 1456
  19. Investigation Into The Theme of Entrapment in The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

    Critics also compared it to JD Salingers 'The Catcher In The Rye', because of the interpretation of it as a critique of college life and establishing identity, and also the existential undertones of the dominant voice are similar in both texts. Robert Taubman wrote in The Statesman that The Bell Jar was a 'clever first novel... the first feminist novel... in the Salinger mood.' Linda Wagner saw The Bell Jar as 'in structure and intent a highly conventional bildungsroman ', or a rites of passage novel, with the construct focusing entirely on the: 'education and maturation of Esther Greenwood, Plath's novel uses a chronological and necessarily episodic structure to keep Esther at the centre of all action.

    • Word count: 4203
  20. How do poets use ‘voice’ to instil their poems with personality? Consider with reference to three poets.

    It has been argued in Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory (Bennett & Royle, 1999) that every literary text has a voice, be it that of an omnipotent and omniscient 'god-like' authorial voice, or a character of the author's creation. According to this theory, even the Biology textbook - that most mundane and impersonal of publications - is infused with the voice(s) of its author(s). As Roland Barthes points out in his landmark essay "The Death of the Author" (Image, Music, Text, 1977), this is the sole reason why authors put their name on a piece of work. An author will lend their name to their novel/poem in order to distinguish it from other novels/poems.

    • Word count: 4617
  21. Sylvia Plath's presentation of parent-child relationships

    It is mainly due to this difference between her and some previous presentations of parent-child relationships that makes her poetry tackling the subject interesting. As with most of Plath's other material, her method of dealing with this theme is by no means straightforward. This is shown in the fact that there are two types of parent-child relationships presented in her poetry. The first relationship is written with the speaker as a progeny discussing her own parents, and the second explores the relationship between the speaker and her own children.

    • Word count: 1179
  22. Comparison of loneliness in the poems "Mirror" and "Spinster" by Sylvia Plath.

    But it is not cruel. The mirror is a metaphor that teaches humanity that appearances are secondary. It is like the eye of god that reflects the truth. The mirror is objective about everything it observes, and gives a vent to its feelings without any bias, prejudice or discrimination. It takes pride in its honesty. The mirror also deplores the sad fate of humanity where man is not ready to reconcile to the hard facts of life. By becoming a lake the poetess further dwells on the theme of loneliness. But the lessons that the mirror and the lake give us are rendered futile.

    • Word count: 1034
  23. 'The Power of Plath's Imagery comes from her surprising, often controversial imagery' How far do you agree with this statement?

    Her choice of language elicits an effect which not only disturbs but forces the reader into a deep state of reflection. In ?Daddy? the persona?s pain and suffering is shown vividly through the shocking line ?Bit my pretty red heart in two?. This is a perfect example of Plath?s startling imagery. Although different in many ways ?Daddy? and ?Hawk Roosting? share the same use of stark and blunt imagery to describe events. In Daddy ?The boot in the face? speaks volumes about the brutality and cruelty shown by the father figure.

    • Word count: 1238
  24. The Applicant by Sylvia Plath places both men and women as victims in a society which disallows them any sense of free-will. To what extent to you agree with this view?

    The voice of the poem has a formal, interrogative tone and begins the poem as an interview for ?the applicant? asking, ?First, are you our sort of person??, the person they are looking for being someone who will conform to being a cog, without confrontation, in the bureaucratic marketplace; being engaged in the exchange of marrying into another life. The speaker uses first-person pronouns such as ?we? and ?our? so instinctively becomes the spokesperson for a larger organisation that has control over the man?s life, work and marriage.

    • Word count: 1484
  25. Explore The Way Plath Presents Nature and The Natural World In The Poem "Tulips".

    As we can see so far in the first and second paragraph she is trying to detach herself ?I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses? this shows us that she has given up, she has detached herself from her family and life. Plath makes out that she is meaningless and lifeless ?my body is like a pebble to them? she describes herself as an object, a cold stone which is worthless and means nothing to no one, something that isn?t alive.The contrast of personal pronouns in the third paragraph ?they? emphasises that she is passive as she is throughout the whole poem.

    • Word count: 670

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