Difference of Themes in Sylvia Plath`s Poems

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As World War II, a needless bloodshed of millions of innocent people, was occuring, Sylvia Plath was the most active and creative in her writing as she experienced various overwhelming stages of her mental illness. The exposure to her depression, relationship with the male figures in her life, and opinions of the people within the society during the World War II era were the roots of Plath’s mindset and passion for poetry. Plath solely depended on the traumatic events during her lifetime to spark the ideas for her most popular writings, where she often focused on how they affected her emotions and mentality.

She was constantly challenged by the people around her as the outside world developed their own virtual image of who they thought she was and her way of writing. Plath’s creative mind continued to explore destructive dimensions in order to understand the nature of creativity, which influenced her most popular pieces of writing. When looking at her poetry through the psychoanalytical and historical viewpoints, she was able to express her opinions on how the idea of self, death, and patriarchal society often diminishes one’s confidence and psychological state through the uses of imagery, metaphors and religious allusions.

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Throughout her writing journey, Plath has produced variations of writing styles such as journal entries and short stories, yet her poems are the most popular and confessional. Her poems revolved around her intense and emotional personal experiences, ranging from the genuinely traumatic to the minor details of life.

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Plath wrote and published nearly 300 poems throughout her lifetime, but her poems “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” are ‘not confessional poems in which the poet displays her wounds, but dramatic monologues in which the speaker moves from a state of psychological bondage to freedom, from spiritual death to life, with suicide paradoxically, standing as a metaphor for this transformation’ (Pollitt 98).

Plath’s “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” clearly indicated her personal reflection of her life where she struggled to find her self-identity and mentioned relevant situations by relating the significance of World War II to her personal experiences. The purpose of including the vivid metaphors and imagery about a historic event was to emphasize her emotional desire to gain freedom from her own demons and a typical narcissistic inward experience for her emotional strife to be simple for one with a sane mind to understand. Plath felt that it was appropriate for her to equalize her pain to the pain of the millions of Jews caused by Nazi hands because she believed that the universal event of sorrow was easily comprehended and empathized by everyone around her.

At initial glance of the poem, “Daddy,” one would automatically assume that Plath dedicated this poem to her father as a form of admiration, but that is not what she wanted her audience to see. In fact, this poem was the complete opposite of what the critics expected, where the poem represents the suffocating relationship Plath shared with her father and her husband. With the use of historical metaphors within this poem, she was able to consistently paint the emotional despair created by her father before he passed away and by her husband before he left her. Plath demonstrated the idea of self and patriarchal society here as she ties the climax of World War II into her relationship with her father, widening a persona to a collective metaphor of her father has a German Nazi and of herself as a Jewish victim of the Holocaust. She did this in order to portray the male oppression that consumed her sense of identity, causing her to struggle with figuring out who she truly was and her worth. Her use of the metaphors, comparing herself to the persecuted Jewish women by the Nazis when she “began to talk like a Jew” and [she thought she] may well be a Jew”, embodies her experiences with the presence of repressive male dominance reflected by her father since he constrained her from living and was a weight upon her shoulders (Plath, Daddy, 34-35).


Throughout this poem, she realized that her father, to whom she refers to as a Nazi when she “thought every German was [him],” has smashed her complete freedom of self-expression and her own identity (Plath, Daddy, 29). The same realization occurred when she married Ted Hughes after her father passed away. Even if she broke apart from the limited, domestic environment of her father, Plath was still being watched by the “Aryan eye, bright blue” which was a clear representation of her husband who copies the childhood rule of her father, an individual who constantly confined her from childhood to adulthood (Plath, Daddy, 44). Although they were weighing down her success and happiness, the effect of their relationship on her mentality seemed as impactful as a feather to the public. Plath felt as if the audience disregarded her true emotions and focused on how her relationships with her father and her husband were clear replicas of dominant-submissive relationships, which was expected during the World War II era.

For example, the male figures of society were expected to go to war and to protect the nation while the females were expected to stay at home and to care for the family. In order to place significant value on the treacherous effects of their relationship on Plath’s mental health and development, she correlated their bond with the bond between the Jews and Nazis during the Holocaust, a highly significant event throughout history that had everyone questioning the nature of humanity. By doing so, Plath felt that it was necessary for her to create a metaphorical war on her suffering at the hands of her oppressive father and late husband, Ted Hughes, in order to establish a sense of identity for herself.

The poem, “Lady Lazarus,” played a huge role in revealing her hidden unhappiness with her internal struggle of self-identity and self-worth, and “the paradox of the poem is that for Plath life itself is a kind of death, and she returns from near death in order to get dead once again” (Meyers, paragraph 4). She uncovered the fact that she has faced the urge to take her life before when “[she has] done it again . . . one year in every ten,” and she found peace with death as she eventually fell in love with the idea of leaving the world (Plath, Lady Lazarus, 1-2).

By naming the poem “Lady Lazarus,” one can make the assumption that she was alluding to Lazarus, a Biblical character whom Jesus raised from the dead after being proclaimed death for four days straight in John 11:43-44. By using Lazarus as a reference, she was able to portray the image of her attempting to commit suicide, but failing, as a comparison to the resurrection of Lazarus himself; Lady Lazarus represents Sylvia Plath herself. The tone of the poem shifts between menacing and scathing as she incorporates Holocaust imagery and religious allusions in order to emphasize her emotions. Similar to “Daddy,” she was struggling with the idea of identifying herself as Sylvia Plath. She did not feel any significant value within her character throughout life, so she attempted to feel relevant to herself and to escape her demons by attempting to commit suicide. Since she felt that others did not view her seriously as an individual, she wanted to punish them for driving her towards death by referring to death as a form of art or performance, which it “is at once a cultured form of expression and also a task that requires a particular knack” (Boswell, 55).

The crowd in the poem views her as an object and finds amusement to her attempts of suicide, therefore she did not recognize herself as a human and compared herself to “A sort of walking miracle, [her] skin / Bright as a Nazi lampshade” and as “[her] face a featureless, fine Jew linen” in order to emphasize the fact that she died long before her multiple attempts; she felt like a lost, living corpse in a big crowd (Plath, Lady Lazarus, 6-9). To bring herself back to life and to put value back into her appearance, she correlates her emotions with the treatment of the Jews in order to bring relevance to her thoughts and writing.

Sylvia Plath was one of the most dynamic poets of her time as she incorporated dark and broken emotions into her poetry as she wrote about the idea of self, death and patriarchy. Her poems expressed her strong opinions on male patriarchy and the pain she experienced due to the male dominance that was prominent throughout her life. Plath’s writings explored her own mental troubles, broken marriage, unresolved conflicts with her parents, and her own struggle of visioning the perfect version of herself. In order to feel a sense of importance and freedom, she expressed her emotions by relating her suffering to those who were tortured and looked down on during World War II: the Jews. As her life went on, she fell into the depths of depression, where her confidence and will to live began to diminish as she relied on the idea of death as a source of freedom, peace and identity.

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Difference of Themes in Sylvia Plath`s Poems. (2022, Jan 13). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/difference-of-themes-in-sylvia-plaths-poems-essay

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