Sylvia Plath's presentation of parent-child relationships

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Sylvia Plaths  presentation of parent-child relationships

Plath deals with the themes she chooses to write about, such as death, suicide and depression, in a very interesting fashion. However, out of all her themes, the one that is the most interesting is her presentation of relationships between parents and children. The way in which she deals with this theme is very different to her other poetry. She breaks many of the rules that were laid down by poets before her, such as the romantics. These series of poets stressed the idea of family and the importance of parents to children and vice versa. As a result, the vast majority of poets that wrote about these relationships thereafter presented them in a very idealistic manner, implying family harmony and lack of conflict. Therefore, when Plath started to write about family relationships in a decidedly unromantic and disturbing style, some were shocked. Instead of her poems being about the healthiness of relationships between parents and children, they are about the darker, less talked about side. 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. Generally this speaker is Plath discussing her own relationships. We know this due to the amount of autobiographical material we have of Plath’s life present in such texts as her novel, “The Bell Jar”, the many interviews she did and the letters that have been published since her death. The way in which she presents these two different kinds of relationships contrast widely in tone, imagery and language. 

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When Plath is writing about her own parents and her relationship with them the tone of the writing is very dark, depressing and full of anger. Possibly the most interesting poem tackling this matter is “Daddy” which she wrote in 1962. In this poem Plath lays bare the tortured relationship between her and her father. She talks of having to live in a “black shoe” for thirty years, cowering, “poor and white/Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.” By describing herself as “poor and white”, she creates a stark contrast to the “black shoe”. It is as if she has been ...

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