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AS and A Level: Sylvia Plath
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Common errors when writing about Sylvia Plath
- 1 When writing about both the poetry and the prose, remember to write about technique as well as content.
- 2 Avoid sweeping generalisations about social attitudes, conventions and gender relationships in the 1950s and 1960s.
- 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 Check your quotations carefully. Misquotations or quotations which make only partial sense never impress the marker.
- 5 The author should be referred to as Plath or Sylvia Plath, not Sylvia.
Writing about Plath's poetry
- 1 Plath’s poetry is often densely metaphorical and sometimes obscure. It is acceptable to acknowledge this, and offer tentative or alternative interpretations.
- 2 Most students comment on Plath’s arresting use of simile and metaphor.
- 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 ‘The Bell Jar’ is best described as semi-fictionalised. Do not assume it is a fully autobiographical account of Plath’s experiences.
- 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 Consider paragraph length and how Plath uses it to reflect the content and mood.
- Marked by Teachers essays 5
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.
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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.
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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.
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