There are some similarities to the way the man and woman are perceived in the poem; they are both vulnerable and somewhat useless in the system, however they are both needed to be passive and accepting to it too. Underneath the typical expectations of the man and woman, they are similar in the fact that they are both naked to begin with. However, the woman is “naked as paper”, suggesting she is pure, innocent and the perfect wife but also soulless and blank. She is blank so that she can be moulded into the role she needs to fill in society. The voice implies in a cold, sharp tone that their nakedness is not of purity, like a baby’s, but just showing that they are a collection of fragmented parts that have no identity, by the harsh ‘k’ sound in “stark naked”. There is a cycle that the poem and parts of Marxism are based on; courtship, marriage, reproduction, and this would be forced on each generation. This is implied in the poem by “We make new stock from the salt”; it shows an unstoppable robotic sequence. The structure of the poem also shows a mechanical style rotation in its quick, strict lines and that it asks questions and gives commands, and is followed in succession by solutions or actions, this idea being the idyllic method of how the society works.
The robotic undertone of the poem gives the idea that marriage is forced and hasn’t got the warmth of a decent human relationship, giving the feeling of isolation and being un-unique in a controlling world. A way Plath removes identity from the man is simply by calling the poem ‘The Applicant’. It suggests that there are many men in exactly the same position as him; he is nothing special, and because of the confronting tone of the voice ultimately forcing answers and reactions out of him, it is arguable that the man does not want to be just another part to make society work by conforming to the social code, as he is not taking actions independently without the reinforcement of the voice. However his options and self-pride are easily removed by the speaker’s cynical confrontations. ‘The Applicant’ in no way challenges the concept of a stereotypical Marxist life for a man and a woman; to get married. The woman of the poem, who is being advertised in a ‘sales-pitch’ like way, is not given a name; she is referred to in pronouns such as “she” and “it”. This completely depersonalises her and suggests she is just another link to make the ideal life for a ‘normal’ human, being the man’s satisfaction and last option to complete his life. It makes her, by Marx’s definition, a commodity; having a use value that satisfies a human need, in this case, a man’s need to have a wife.
There is a flickering, short moment when the applicant seems to try to resist to conform when the speaker tells the applicant to “stop crying”, but the threat of marriage being the “last resort” overcomes his attempt to struggle; there is nothing else he can do with his life apart from accept the suit and the woman. It could be suggested that the “suit” gives a small kind of identity to the man compared to the woman, she is always naked, but he can almost hide behind the suit. It gives him the stereotypical position of being in work in a patriarchal, bureaucratic society, but as the suit is “black and stiff” suggests he is not flexible to move within his position, he is forced to stay in a stagnant working environment where he can’t flourish. However, it also offers him a form of protection; being naked is being vulnerable and by giving him a suit, gives him a sense of dignity and worth within the society, even though he doesn’t. The woman however, has no purpose or individuality until she marries, being in the trapped isolation of the “closet”, and even when she is out and married, she can only gain artificial, materialistic worth by being “silver” and “gold”, as if she is a prize, but only that will shows the benefits in time. The man, even though relatively little, has more choice compared to the woman. He has the final decision to marry the suit and the woman, whereas the woman only follows what is put forward to her. His status can stay integral when wearing the suit, even if there are “fire and bombs through the roof”, but the woman lives out a meaningless life in the closet until she is released by the man willing to marry her. The relationship between them is like the suit; artificial and functional, they are both present to purely meet each other’s needs to be an acceptable figure in the social order. The shortfalls of the man can be filled by the woman; she is a quiet, inert “doll”. “Doll” gives the connotation that she is pretty, fragile and only there for display purposes and to be controlled; she will do “whatever you tell it”, she has no free will. The eight stanzas of the poem are in pentastich, giving it a robotic and mechanical feel and this feeling links to when the woman almost turns into a wind up doll when she can “talk, talk, talk”. It is the clichéd view of women in an order where they have no resonance. She could be seen as her physical appearance being solely for the man’s pleasure to look at her and that she is the “poultice” for the mans “hole”, suggesting she is a medicine to heal him of his inadequacies; her existence is to be a part of this man and to marry him.
‘The Applicant’ portrays men and women as victims in a society where they have no free will. The voice of the poem is one of an authoritative figure, talking down to the applicant, manipulating his ‘choices’. The voice asks questions, creating the illusion that there are options for the people, but the cynical nature of the speaker makes the questions rhetorical and imperative; the individual’s lives are set and unchangeable. People move, but not forward, instead in a cyclical nature and it succumbs through generations. The world of the poem restrains and puts boundaries upon individuals to limit them to expected protocols and system of behaviour. There is no real meaning to life apart from being suitable for marriage and work in a factitious institution, there is no choice for men or women. They are trapped within to confines of the system, and their fragmented bodies, there is no chance of escape or progression within the social restraints.
Word Count: 1,467
- BHASVIC English Department- Critical Anthology Coursework Booklet