Explore the ways in which the theme of old age is presented in the texts you have studied.
Old age is a growing problem in today’s society- we all have to worry about how we are going to provide for our rapidly aging population. Charities such as Age UK work to try and provide the best possible life for those who have reached old age- whilst the government struggles to keep all the current provisions for the elderly available. For many years, writers have felt it important to express their personal opinions on the topic of growing old- yet even they don’t agree- some celebrating the prospect of a growing life expectancy and the privileges that come with being elderly- whilst others have an extremely pessimistic view, believing that once they officially become an ‘old aged pensioner’ then they become a lower being without any dignity or individuality.
One of the texts written on the theme of old age is ‘Old Ladies Home’ by Sylvia Plath, who offers a very grim presentation of care home life- where the residents are weak, fragile and neglected. The structure of this poem highlights this very well, the first stanza describing the women’s frailty; the second their lack of activity and loss of contact with society; and the third- describing how these old women are running out of time- that death is waiting just around the corner. We are immediately shown Plath’s negative view of old age, by the fact that she points out the segregation of the women in the title of the poem. It is likely that this poem was set in the early 1900’s, meaning that women at the time would still have been considered lower in society than men. They were considered useless for any kind of laborious work, as were old people. So, when women reached old age they were removed from the wider community so they didn’t infringe… it was almost like society was ashamed of them. However, when reading this we have to remember that, as the poem was set so many decades ago, care homes are not going to be like the one presented anymore.
The title refers to the inhabitants of this home as ‘Old Ladies’. The fact that they are referred to as ‘ladies’ implies that these women were once respected within upper-class society- but now they are ‘old’ it is almost as if they have passed their sell by date- that it is of no use to keep them within normal society anymore… it also shows how within this home, the women do not have any individuality, they are just another person that we are spending our valuable money and time on. It is also very ironic that Plath has chosen to use the word “Home”. For most people, their home is somewhere where they feel safe and warm- a sanctuary where they can be themselves without judgment… yet this is the opposite. These ladies do not feel safe, warm or happy as they wait for death- they do not even get any visitors, shown by a line later in the poem that says ‘Sons, daughter, daughters and sons, Distant and cold as photos”. For most people, home is where you are surrounded by your family yet the only people these old women are surrounded by are their careers.