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GCSE: Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath's biography

  1. 1 Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was an American poet, novelist and short story writer.
  2. 2 Her father died when she was eight and this had a profound effect on her – see her Daddy poem.
  3. 3 She suffered from depression. Her breakdown, subsequent suicide attempt and the electroconvulsive therapy that followed are recorded in her novel 'The Bell Jar' and her poems.
  4. 4 Academically gifted she went on to win a Fulbright Scholarship. She then met and married the poet Ted Hughes and had two children.
  5. 5 Hughes and Plath separated in 1962. She committed suicide by gassing herself in the oven the following year. She is the first poet to be posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

How to write essays on Plath's work

  1. 1 Use correct literary terminology to accurately analyse poetic techniques.
  2. 2 Focus on the question and refer to it in the introduction and conclusion.
  3. 3 Embed quotes to show knowledge and understanding of the poem.
  4. 4 As Plath's poems are very autobiographical it is necessary to include aspects of her biography in your response.
  5. 5 Use topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph to focus on answering the question.

Plath's ideas and expression

  1. 1 Plath was the forerunner of what is now termed the 'confessional poetry' genre as many poems are autobiographical.
  2. 2 Her poems are full of personal and nature based imagery such as skulls, blood, hospitals and the moon.
  3. 3 Plath wrote from a female perspective and her work was adopted by feminists who called her a 'symbol of blighted genius'.
  4. 4 A lot of her poems have a sense of imprisonment and looming death, overshadowed by her father. The poetry collection Colossus deals with themes such as death, resurrection and redemption.
  5. 5 After she and Ted Hughes broke off their relationship she wrote over forty poems in two months with the themes of love, rage and despair.

  1. 'Disaster in the Alps'- To compare the way three news publications, The Times, The Mirror and Newsweek, an American weekly news magazine, reported the same incident.

    The tone is much more factual and is not as colloquial as popular press. The sentences are usually quite complex; hence the paragraphs are quite lengthy. The graphics are usually informative rather than biased or seeking attention. Moreover, in The Times, the sound effects would usually be limited to puns. Foreign publications, such as Newsweek, generally contain features of both popular press and quality press. The Mirror contained quite a lot of factual information. The article informed the readership that "20 skiers" "plunged 300ft to their deaths" after a low-flying American "warplane" "sliced through the wire of their cable car."

    • Word count: 3161
  2. The three poems I have chosen to compare are 'A Parental Ode To My Son Aged Three years and Five Months', 'Catrin' and 'For Heidi With Blue Hair'.

    This poem has a sense of humour, which is helped by the positioning of the brackets. To show you what I mean here is the first stanza of the poem: Thou happy, happy elf! (But stop - first let me kiss away the tear) Thou tiny image of myself! (My love, he's poking peas into his ear!) Thou merry, laughing sprite! With spirits feather-light, Untouched by sorrow and unsoiled by sin - (Good heavens! The child is swallowing a pin!)

    • Word count: 3802
  3. How is Sylvia Plath's life reflected in the poems

    What did her suicide mean? What did it reveal about her family, her society, her time, her sex, herself? Two years after her death, "Ariel" was published. This small book includes Plath's poems written not long ago before her death. She wrote about the crucial issues of her life, but she made outstanding art from those issues. In foreword, Robert Lowell writes that "Though lines get repeated, and sometimes the plot is lost, language never dies in her mouth...Everything in these poems is personal, confessional, felt, but the manner of feeling is controlled hallucination, the autobiography of a fever."

    • Word count: 3039
  4. A Trapped Life: The Autobiographical Elements of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.

    Stevenson wrote, "A fanatical preoccupation with death and rebirth informs her sad, cynical novel, The Bell Jar". Her own life experiences and every obstacle she faced gave her the voice to write such an accurate view of her character's feelings. She used her Trolenberg 2 own emotions to give depths to the characters (DeFeo 624). In The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath, because of her own life experiences, has a great insight as to how people feel; feelings of confinement, descending into madness, and the struggles of adolescents are themes that are investigated throughout the author's novel.

    • Word count: 3309
  5. Discuss the presentation of death within Plath's poetry, commenting upon how your view compares with other critical viewpoints that you have read.

    and the ordinary, almost reassuring "The moon has nothing to be sad about..." The mother can be seen to be protecting her children from the violence of the garden by the lines "She has folded Them back into her body as petals Of a rose close when the garden Stiffens..." All of which seem to portray the idea that the murder of the children and suicide of the mother are both natural. They form part of a cycle somehow, and are nothing to be distressed about, to quote David Holbrook, "There was 'perfection' in committing suicide, and in 'folding' into

    • Word count: 3296
  6. What happens in the story? Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit is a short story written in 1955.

    Yet many of these were patriotic Americans, who wished to fight for their country. The narrator's family seems to have a German background. Her father is called Otto. And when her uncle speaks of Germans in America being put in prison, her mother says she is glad he didn't live to see what is happening in the USA. In the story we see how one person becomes a scapegoat almost by chance - if the narrator had not joined in the game with Paula and the others, she could not have been blamed for the accident to the snowsuit.

    • Word count: 6597
  7. How do Hughes and Hardy both use memory in their poems?

    I think this also refers to everything that happens after this, but most especially Ted's affair with Assia. I think that Ted feels that by telling her this through the poem, he is explaining to her that he will always be a womaniser, and the affair with Assia was not his direct fault. Ted also says, "Maybe I noticed you". Again, he can't actually remember if he did. He talks about her hair; "long hair, loose waves - your Veronica Lake bang." He then makes a reference to her scar - the one she got when she was 20 and tried to commit suicide: "Not what it hid".

    • Word count: 4533
  8. Compare the ways in which Plath uses imagery and description in Mirror and Blackberrying, and Heaney in Churning Day and Blackberry-Picking

    In the second verse the mirror is the reflection of a lake. There is still, however, the alternating of the pronouns as in the last verse. This verse talks more of the woman's reflection that the lake is analysing. The woman is confused and by looking at herself in the lake tries to create some sort of recognition of herself. The next line is a direct reference to Plath's own life "Then she turns to those liars the candles of the moon."

    • Word count: 3002

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • "Growing Up" the main character experiences something that changes his view of things. Compare the story with one other from the selection, in which a character experiences a kind of change.

    "In conclusion the stories are quite similar as in both stories the main character's relationships develop and are both disappointed by their immediate family. Furthermore this development in relationship leads to an experience of growing up and realising the way things actually are as well as how they will affect the future of the main character. However they are also quite different in their own styles, as "Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit" is written in first person narration and is clear visual memory which Plath tries to describe as vividly as possible to the reader with the excessive use of language features; metaphors, similes and colour vocabulary. Whereas "Growing Up" is written in third person narration and has a brief more abrupt involvement along with metaphors only really being used at climatic points in the story. Both stories do use contrast to build up an atmosphere and tension so that when the climax is reached it is much more effective because when looking at the story in context before the climax you shouldn't be expecting the incident that occurs. Anjana Johal 11E"

  • Look at 'mirror' and one other poem from a woman's point of view. Compare how they present woman's views of themselves and others.

    "So in my opinion both these poets have both effectively shown how they contrast each other, but they still both show their views and opinions from a woman's point of view thus making it more effective as both poems are written by woman, and they are both about appearances and how they view there futures."

  • Compare poems written by Carol Ann Duffy and Sylvia Plath.

    "I found the two poems very different in subject, however they make the reader feel the same way. War Photographer is a factual poem which leaves you open to interpretation by the reader as to whether you personally react to things you read in the papers, whether you don't care just because it's not happening to you. The second poem, is a poem which many people can relate to, especially teenagers of this time, as many teenagers become insecure at this stage in their lives. The way the poet described the obsession which developed could be related to many people. Zo� Reynolds 04/05/2007 "Write an essay comparing the poems War Photographer by Carol Ann Duffy and Mirror by Sylvia Plath looking particularly at contrasts within both the poems.""

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