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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
Critical appreciation of the poem "Old Ladies' Home" by Sylvia Plath with reference to the presentation of old age4 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
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
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
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
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 curiosity3 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