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The Norton Anthology Sylvia Plath Essay

Imagery is the essence of all forms of poetry. It is what brings a poem to life it is the key to releasing all the emotions in us. Imagery develops a deeper meaning to the poem and its major themes. Plath uses a lot of images in her poem which reflect her feelings and help the reader to relate to her. The recurrences of related images are the central elements in Sylvia Plath’s poetry. The poems of “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” both use imagery of historical people and events that took place to explain tense and painful emotions. The imagery she employs throughout both poems is intensely personal and centered around her intimate emotions. Due to this fact, this subsequently draws the attention more clearly to the themes of each poem.

It is interesting to note that “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” were written only a fortnight apart, this may help to understand her state of mind at that time. It is conveyed through many related images in both of her poems. These specific images such as the Holocaust and her use of colour imagery effectively stress the themes of the poem which are primarily life and death.

“Daddy” is a disturbing depiction of the father-daughter relationship- A relationship of the oppressor and the oppressed. Her father’s order and brutality is expressed in stereotypical images of a Nazi “neat moustache”, “Mein Kempf look.”

In “Daddy” the main theme is that of death and fear. “Poor and White” is a stark contrast to the “Black Shoe” All her feeling and emotion has been sapped out by her father. The use of the colour “Black” represents death and negative images, it is the narrator’s mental and physical torture and ultimate destruction. This colour brings back the picture of her father. Strong images are used throughout this poem such as in the line “Marble Heavy, a bag full of god”,”Frisco seal” suggests the heaviness her fathers authority weighed on her throughout her life. This imagery would suggest that her father represented a threatening and domineering presence in her life. Once again, evoking the theme of fear in the poem.

Plath uses the image of a vampire in “Daddy” to represent her husband and her father. Historically, people who were transformed into vampires became only monsters who retained only the physical appearance of their former selves. The duality of father and husband in the poem correspond to the vampire’s dual identity as dead human and living monster. This image of a vampire effectively conveys the terror and intense negativity she is expressing in the poem. It is only natural that she would find an image which would link these two men in her life and using this further highlight the theme of suffering.

Just like in “Daddy”, Sylvia Plath uses the imagery of colour “Red Fire”, “Red Hair” to denote one of her major themes. The colour “Red” is a fierce colour it represents life and vitality therefore it highlights the theme of Re-birth. Plath expresses her need to die in order to be re-born. Here she is confronting her pain through her poetry in an attempt to find internal peace. Images of Lazarus from the bible who was raised from the dead by Christ further highlights this theme of a revival. The theme of life and death is again apparent through her alteration from life to death to life again. The narrator has transformed psychologically in the course of her life, a transformation evident in her treatment and practice of suicide.

The controversial Holocaust imagery only appears in the poems she wrote between October and November 1962 of which both “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” were written. It can be directly linked to the period when the Nazi Lieutenant was executed in 1962. In both poems she equates the horrors of personal suffering with the human suffering on a larger scale. The narrator utilizes a range of images of oppression which develop into horror images.

Severely haunting images of the Holocaust such as “Herr Doctor” (figure of death) “Chuffing me off like a Jew”, “Nazi Lampshade”, “the rack and the screw” combined with the grotesque imagery “peel off napkin” skin, “Full set of teeth”. These disturbing images embody her turmoil and capture the essence of her desire to escape from life-which is death. The use of holocaustic imagery is intended to both shock and engage the audience, with strong associations and connotations of extreme horror and disgust. Plath uses these images as vehicles for creating an atmosphere of terror and evil and to further emphasize the theme of death.

The definition of Theme is “the pattern created within a literary work by the repetitive use of particular images”. These images are laden with pain and the tragedy of suicide, the central tragedy of Sylvia Plath. The effect of Sylvia Plath’s imagery stimulates a response from the reader. At the same time it allows the reader to draw on their own personal experience, this is the stage where the themes of a poem become clear. Plath’s successful poetry can be attributed to her ability to express certain themes in such a diverse way.

The theme of death is conveyed on many levels which are distinguished by the persona taking a subjective or objective view and using varied imagery to reflect what she is experiencing. Not only does the imagery in both poems develop the themes of life and death but they also can be seen to have other underlying meanings concerning the themes. After all why does Sylvia Plath concentrate on both the death and rebirth themes when clearly it is a paradox? Perhaps it suggests that maybe Sylvia Plath was as focused on living as she was absorbed by death. Nobody knows!


http://www.sylviaplath.de/ (14/01/04)

http://www.sylviaplathforum.com/ (14/01/04)

http://www.cla.sc.edu/ENGL/writingprograms/FirstYrEnglish/edgerton.htm (14/01/04)

http://cityhonors.buffalo.k12.ny.us/city/rsrcs/eng/plasca.html (14/01/04)

http://cityhonors.buffalo.k12.ny.us/city/rsrcs/eng/placady1.html (14/01/04)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A688197 (15/01/04)

http://www.womenwriters.net/editorials/whitton0500.htm (18/01/04)

http://lion.chadwyck.co.uk (18/01/04)

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