Sylvia Plath-The Comparison And Contrast Of Her Life And Her Works Essay, Research Paper
Sylvia Plath was born October 27, 1932 in Boston Massachusetts. She was the first child of Dr. Emil Otto Plath and Aurelia Schober Plath. Otto was a German who came to study ministry and Northwestern University, but wound up as a biology professor at Boston University, after attaining a Master s Degree in the arts from Washington University and a Ph.D. in science from Harvard, who specialized in bees. Aurelia Schober Plath was a German and English teacher at Brookline High School, until she married Otto and became a homemaker (Alexander 20-30).
Sylvia s brother, Warren Joseph Plath, was born April 27, 1935, The Plaths resided in Boston until the fall of 1936, when they moved to Winthrop, Massachusetts, a town near Boston. The Plath household was very conservative, and Otto and Aurelia s relationship was very stable. Their Family, including extended family was a very tight unit. Sylvia s childhood was a blissful one and was instrumental in developing Sylvia as a writer (Barnard chronology).
Shortly after Warren s birth in 1935, Otto began to show signs of incipient illness: slight weight loss, hacking cough, and an uncharacteristically low threshold for anger. Otto suspected that he had cancer because a friend of his with similar symptoms had recently died due to lung cancer. On November 6, 1940, Otto Plath lost his battle with diabetes mellitus, when an embolus dislodged from somewhere in his bloodstream and struck his lung killing him instantly. Sylvia and Warren did not attend the funeral because Aurelia believed that they were too young to witness an event as traumatic as the funeral of their father (Alexander 28-60).
In 1942, Aurelia moved the family to Wellesley, Massachusetts. While living in this house, Sylvia s first poem was published at the young age of only eight years old. Sylvia was a star student, and made straight A s throughout high school. She excelled in English, particularly creative writing. During the fall of 1950 Sylvia won a scholarship to attend Smith College, an all girls school in Northampton, Massachusetts. At this point in her life, the early Smith years, she was writing very measured, pretty poems (Hughes, McCullough 3-25).
Sylvia s short story, Sunday at the Mintons, won first prize in a Mademoiselle contest. From this story, she also won a Guest Editorship at the Mademoiselle headquarters in 1953. She was sent to write editorials for the magazine in New York. This is where Sylvia developed most of her ideas for her future novel, The Bell Jar. Also, while in New York, Sylvia fell into a deep depression. She began experimenting with the idea of suicide. After the job in New York was over, Sylvia returned home to Wellesley. Sylvia was different after her trip to New York; she would question friends about the best way to commit suicide. Aurelia began to worry about Sylvia and sent her to a psychiatrist. At this time, Sylvia began electroshock therapy. Then, on August 24, 1953, Sylvia took forty-eight sleeping pills and his herself in the tiny two-and-a-half-foot crawl space under her porch. The police did not find Sylvia s body until several days after Sylvia had been reported as missing. Sylvia recovered in the hospital and was transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital s Psychiatric Ward. While there, Sylvia continued shock treatments. In January of 1954 Sylvia was released to return to Smith College for her senior year (Alexander 110-131).
After graduating from Smith College, Sylvia was accepted into Cambridge University in England. While at Cambridge, Sylvia met her future husband, Ted Hughes, who was also a poet. Sylvia began dating Ted, and they were eventually married on June 16, 1956. They kept their marriage hidden due to the publicity that it would have drawn to them. Later, Sylvia and Ted moved to the United States, and Sylvia pursued a teaching job at Smith College. This is when Sylvia began hearing rumors about Ted s infidelity (190-200).
In July of 1959 Sylvia became pregnant with their first child. After the news of the pregnancy, Ted and Sylvia moved back to England. Then, on April 1, 1960, Sylvia gave birth to Freida Rebecca Hughes. Not even a year later, Sylvia became pregnant with her son, Nicholas Farrar Hughes. Between these two births, Sylvia had also endured a miscarriage due to stress (Barnard chronology).
In the summer of 1962, Ted and Assia, a close friend of the family, began showing signs of an attraction to each other. Sylvia did not think anything of it until Ted admitted to her that he was having an affair. Sylvia was enraged but still wanted to stay together for the children. Ted and Sylvia tried to reconcile on a trip to Ireland, but Ted was not in love with Sylvia; he was now in love with Assia. After the trip to Ireland, Sylvia filed for legal separation (Alexander 280-300).
After the separation, Sylvia was penniless and lived in a London flat with her two children. During her times of hardship, she wrote heavily at four o clock in the morning, inspired by the stillness of the early morning and the silence of the city. During this time, Sylvia wrote her most famous work, The Bell Jar. The Bell Jar was a piece of autobiographical fiction about a young writer named Esther Greenwood, a guest editor for a women s magazine during the summer. She had many psychological crises and contemplated suicide. This novel allowed readers a sort of window into Sylvia s mind, a sort of reenactment of her emotionally tumultuous college years (300-310).
Sylvia s work has always been a subject of curiosity among scholars and critics. They analyze her poetry, hoping for insight into her mind, hoping to find reasons why Sylvia killed herself, why she lived in a constantly fluctuating state of misery. Critics have said that Sylvia Plath s work is similar to earlier writers who used their writing as a sexual release, to express their views on taboo subjects. In Plath s case, the taboo topic is death. She views death as an escape from the sadism of life (Alexander 360-370).
The Bell Jar is said by some to be an autobiographical novel, but one cannot say this for sure. Even though many events in the novel fit with Plath s life, it is difficult to decide how much of Sylvia Plath herself is in Esther Greenwood, the main character of the novel. Robert Taubman wrote in The Statesman that The Bell Jar was a clever first novel, written in the Salinger mood (345). He also said that Esther Greenwood sees things in more detail and differently than most people (345).
Saul Maloff wrote in Commonweal that, This is an autobiographical novel about madness and suicide. This novel is a self-indulgent form of a tantrum that enhances self-pity and spitefulness (358). Maloff is one of many critics that believe that The Bell Jar is an autobiographical novel. He also believes that Sylvia only wrote this book to get attention like a young child would do. Many people do not like Sylvia s work because it is too horrid and blunt. Sylvia has long been known for her talent in noticing details, details that most people would not notice. Then, she expresses her views very openly and straightforward, which may astonish some readers.
There are many critics, however, that believe Sylvia s work is a refreshing break from a modest society that does not believe in expressing their true beliefs. Sylvia was not afraid to admit that she judged people, and she would tell you exactly how she felt about you. Sylvia had high confidence about her work and did not care what other people thought about it. Sylvia wrote what she felt, and that is how every writer should write (Taubman 345).
Most agree that Sylvia s work improved since she began writing. Some believe that when Sylvia resisted pretentiousness, she achieved glistening evocative poems, because she forgot about all of her success and ability to write, and just wrote what was on her mind. Sylvia also had a habit of dramatizing the tiniest personal experience to make it more interesting for the reader. By doing this she was able to bring the reader into the problem with such realism, that they felt as though they too were experiencing the problems with Sylvia (Simon 345).
Simon also writes: The Bell Jar is the story, in other words, from behind the electro convulsive shock treatment. It dramatizes the decisive event of her adult life, which was her attempted suicide and accidental survival, and reveals how this attempt to annihilate herself had grown from the decisive event in her childhood, which was the death of her father when she was eight. Taken separately, each episode of the plot is a close-to-documentary account of something that did happen in the author s life. But the great and it might be said that profoundly disturbing effect of this brisk assemblage is determined by two separate and contradictory elements. One of these operates on what could be called an upper level, the other on a lower. The first, on the upper level, is the author s clearly recognizable purpose in the way she manipulates her materials. Her long-nursed ambition to write an objective novel about life was swept aside by a more urgent need. Fully aware of what she was doing, she modeled the sequence of episodes, and the various characters, into a ritual scenario for the heroine s symbolic death and rebirth. To her, this became the crucial aspect of the work. That mythic schema of violent initiation, in which the old self dies and the new self is born, or the false dies and the true is born, which is fundamental to the major works of Lawrence and Dostoyevski, as well as to Christianity, can be said to have preoccupied her in particular for very good reasons. She saw it as something other than one of imaginative literature s more important ideas. As far as she was concerned, her escape from her past and her conquest of the future, or in more immediate, real terms her well-being from day to day and even her very survival, depended absolutely on just how effectively she could impose this reinterpretation on her own history, within her own mind, and how potently her homemade version of the rite could give sustaining shape and positive direction to her psychological life. Her novel had to work as both the ranking of the mythic event and the liturgy, so to speak, of her own salvation (345).
Ironically, at only 30 years of age, Sylvia Plath committed suicide. Neighbors said that they heard her footsteps until about five a.m. Sylvia had written a note that said Please call Dr. Horder, under his telephone number on a business card. She then crept down the stairs into the main entryway to tape the note to the perambulator, just inside the building s front door. Back in her apartment, she prepared a plate of bread and butter and two mugs of milk, which she carried upstairs and placed in her two children s bedrooms. She opened the window in the children s room; then, going into the hall, sealed the room shut by stuffing towels around the cracks in the door and taping up the top and two sides. The children s safety secured, Sylvia went downstairs and sealed herself in the kitchen. Again, towels under the door, tape over the cracks, Sylvia opened the oven door, folded a cloth on which she could rest her cheek, turned on the gas, and, kneeling down on the floor before the oven, rested her cheek on the folded cloth that she had placed on the oven door. Sylvia s nurse, Myra Norris, found Sylvia sprawled out on the floor with her head still in the oven. She turned off the gas, opened the windows, and carried Sylvia s body into the living room, where she began CPR. Horder pronounced Sylvia dead at ten-thirty a.m. On her death certificate, which was registered on the sixteenth, Sylvia was described as being dead on arrival. Listing her occupation as an authoress wife of Edward James Hughes an author, the certificate documented her cause of death as Carbon monoxide poisoning (domestic gas) while suffering from depression. Did kill herself. Though the children survived, her son almost did not. Gas from the upstairs had seeped down into his room and knocked him out as he slept. Luckily, he escaped with no injuries. Sylvia was buried in Yorkshire, alongside her husband s deceased family (Alexander 330-340).
Though Sylvia did not become famous during her lifetime, she did in the years following her death