Examine Plaths Presentation Of Parentchild Relationships Essay

Examine Plath?s Presentation Of Parent-child Relationships Essay, Research Paper

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.? 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 stifled,

starved of nutrition and sunlight by her all enveloping father. She is ?poor?,

not in the sense of material value, but spiritually. She has had all feeling

and emotion sapped from her by the presence of her father. ?The strange childhood imagery in the echo of the well-known

nursery rhyme (?The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe?) is carried on throughout

the rest of the poem. For example the repetitions (?You do not do, you do not

do?) and the rigid assonances (?Barely daring?) sound like another nursery

rhyme, albeit a rather twisted one. This kind of imagery suggests that she is

in some way rooted in her childhood past. We then learn that this is due to the

overbearing influence her ?Daddy? had, and still has, on her. He is described

as huge, ?marble heavy?, even his toe is as ?Big as a Frisco seal?. This

imagery would suggest that her father represented to her a big and rather

threatening presence. This is backed up by Plath?s comparison of her father to

a Nazi oppressor, ?With your Luftwaffe??, ?And your Aryan eye, bright

blue./Panzer man, panzer man, O you? This is interesting as we

know that her father, although Austrian was not actually a Nazi, so even a

tenuous racial link is enough to cast him as a Nazi murderer in her eyes. To

her, he is obviously so close to a Nazi in his actions, that she sees him as

one. She then casts herself as the oppressed Jew being ?chuffed off?to Dachau,

Auschwitz, Belsen. Her usage of ?chuffed? obviously refers to the Nazi?s

transport of the Jews to the death camps by train, but it also harks back to

the childhood imagery, in that it is a very childish word with associations

childhood games. Despite all this anger,

Plath still voices a wish to rejoin him. She was ?ten when they buried (him)?,

and mentions that ?at twenty (she) tried to die/ To get back, back, back to

(him)?. This shows that although her father was an overbearing, dominant,

almost stifling presence in her life, he was also a very important one. Even in

death he retains his power over her life and the only way in which she can

escape him is to die and join him. The poem ends with threats of another

suicide attempt. She cuts herself off so she can be left alone to die. The last

line of the poem; ?Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I?m through?, is a kind of

severance from a turbulent love affair. Such reference to her father

appears in Plath?s other work, such as ?Little Fugue?. In this case the poem is

not exclusively about her father, but does contain references which back up the

ideas in ?Daddy?. For example, Plath?s use of threatening language when

describing her father: ?Such a dark funnel, my father!?. She again describes

him as Nazi figure; ?Gothic and barbarous, pure German.? Although not such a

prominent figure in her work, Plath does mention her mother in some of her

poems. The best example of this is in ?The Moon and the Yew Tree?. In this poem

we see her mother as presented in a guise of being out of reach and distant. ??????????? The

eyes lift after it and find the moon./ The moon is my mother?. ??????????? How

I would like to believe in tenderness. It is as if she is reaching towards her mother as a

Yew tree reaches towards the sky and the moon, forever out of reach. Her mother

smiles benevolently down upon her but does nothing, has no effect on the shadow

of her father, the imposing presence of the ?Gothic? tree. In this way she

feels neglected by her mother, and as a result she is not such a dominant

presence, and so does not figure in as much work as Plath?s father. However,

the dominant tone of Plath?s poems tackling the matter of the narrator as the

?child? talking about her own relationship with her parents is a dark one. This

has much to do with her own experiences. The language used in these poems is

abrasive and violent and this used in conjunction with the threatening and

somewhat disturbing imagery produces poetry of immense power and feeling. ??????????? There

exists another way in which Plath writes about parent-child relationships. That

is of the narrator talking of her own children and her relationship with them.

These poems contrast wildly in tone and style to her other poems such as the

ones discussed above. Instead of being dark, somewhat depressing and disturbing

in tone, they are more light-hearted and joyful. In fact, it could be said that

when Plath writes about a parent-child relationship from this point of view, it

is the only time she really allows her poems to have a lighter tone. These seem

to be her most uplifting poems, in theme, tone and language. One of her happiest poems

tackling this subject is ?You?re?. This is about the relationship between a

mother and her unborn child. Its overall tone is very light-hearted and joyful,

with Plath describing the life inside her using playful imagery and uplifting

language. ?Clownlike, happiest on your hands? is a good example of the overall

tone and style of the poem. It is exuberant and high spirited and is in stark

contrast to many of her other poems. It is clear that her child has already

given her a lot of pleasure. Indeed she is very satisfied, ?Right, like a well

done sum?. At last she feels complete and has feeling of existing, of being

alive. Plath also uses a number of almost absurd comparisons in this poem which

add to the happy tone. For example, the line ?Mute as a turnip? is humorous and

adds to the feeling of merriment. The rhythm and metre of ?You?re? is also very

different to her poems about child-parent relationships, with her as the child.

It is written more like a narrative, or story than ?Daddy? which has regular,

almost marching rhythm and rhyme. ??????????? ?Morning

Song? is similar to ?You?re?, in that it is of much lighter tone. It too uses

uplifting imagery and language to present a relationship, indicating that it

makes Plath happy. A good example is the first line; ?Love set you going like a

fat gold watch?. This is a very stimulating choice of imagery as it has so many

implications. The ?fat gold watch? signifies tangibility and? weightiness. It has associations with the

inexorability of life; it will tick onwards until it finally winds down and

stops. She is satisfied at her creation, it makes her feel as if she has

accomplished something worthwhile. This light tone is consistent throughout the

poem and is epitomised in the last line: ?The clear vowels rise like balloons?.

This echoes the lifting of her soul which having a child brings her. She enjoys

looking after her child and ?stumbl(ing) from bed, cow heavy and floral/ In

(her) Victorian nightgown.? This is typical of the self mocking style of Plath.

So rarely in her poetry does Plath write about things giving her pleasure, that

when she does, as is the case in these poems about her relationship with her

children, it stands out as being remarkable. ??????????? However,

this is not always the case in Plath?s work. Nothing is ever straightforward

and simple with her, and one must avoid making generalisations. Indeed, not all

of Plath?s poems in which children appear are lighthearted and uplifting. In

fact, in many of her poems, she uses child, more often baby, imagery to produce

a threatening tone. A good example of this appears in her poem ?Tulips?, where

she talks of the tulips which ??breathe lightly/ Through their white

swaddlings, like an awful baby?. This is not the only example of nightmarish

and somewhat disturbing child imagery. For example, the line in ?The Arrival of

the Bee Box?, ?The coffin of? a square baby?. These kinds of references to

children in Plath?s other work, although not directly tackling the matter of

parent-child relationships, indicate that there was another darker side to

Plath?s relationship with her children. She felt threatened by their demand for

attention and they obviously represented some kind of malevolent influence on

her. Perhaps one can read this as Plath?s desire not to treat her children as

her parents treated her. It is as though her fear of this comes out in her

disturbing baby imagery as she is frightened by the responsibility she is under

due to them. ??????????? In

conclusion, it can be said that Plath?s presentation of parent-child

relationships is full of conflicting emotions and different viewpoints. One

cannot make a rule into which all her poetry fits because they are all so

varied and conflicting. However, if one takes the two types of parent child

poetry discussed separately, one can divide them into two general types.The

first, which tackles Plath?s relationship with her own parents all seem to be

dark and malevolent and full of anger. The second type seem to be far more

lighthearted, indeed by far the most lighthearted of all Plath?s work. Despite

the existence of a darker, more threatening side to her presentation of this

kind of relationship it does not quite counterbalance the overall impression of

happiness present in her poems of this kind.


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