Sylvia Plath epitomized
death ever since she was left traumatized by her father’s passing at the age of
eight. The death of her father took a toll on her as she was left feeling
unsecure and abandoned. Plath’s literature gravitates around the theme of death
as she never recovered from the loss of her father and was not able to forget
about her distress or heal her wounds. Ultimately in efforts to escape her
misery and isolation, Plath, at the age of ten, attempted to commit suicide for
the first time. Her ten-year-old self tried to slit her throat as she knew that
death was the only way of reuniting with her father in the other world. As time
went on, Plath’s sufferings accumulated eventually leading to more suicide
attempts. Although the fear of death is said to be a universal truth, Plath
rather viewed it as a present and a form of art.
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well –Lady Lazarus,
Through this line from “Lady Lazarus”, Plath states to her
audience her attempt of mastering the art of dying through her multiple suicide
attempts. It depicts her determination in accomplishing the perfect, successful
suicide as she believes she has nothing to live for anymore. It indicates
Plath’s view of suicide and death as an opportunity to finally find happiness
once again by reuniting with her father. She wishes to perhaps lay beside him
in a graveyard and forever be with him in the afterlife.
significant factor that resulted in death being one of the most prevalent
themes in Plath’s literature was the unfaithfulness of her husband Ted Hughes. Plath and mysterious Hughes met one night at a student
party in Cambridge in 1956. The two aspiring poets developed great affection
for each other instantly and married just four months after meeting. Still
suffering from father fixation, finding Hughes not only allowed Plath to find
love but also a substitute for the absence of her father allowing her to move
forward from her troubled past and become more optimistic about her future.
However, the marriage was soon under threat as Plath uncovered the truth about
her husband’s affair with another woman. Plath only had love for Hughes, with
no other man in her heart yet she along with her two young children were
deserted for his new love Assia Wevill. Hughes stopped visiting their home and
Plath soon became exhausted by motherhood and all the responsibilities placed
upon her, eventually allowing her to settle into the status of a
severely depressed woman once again. She began to view her life as a painful
burden that had no meaning thus allowing her to view death as her only means of
obtaining eternal peacefulness.
The poem “sheep in fog” was written by Plath during the
final weeks of her life and it perfectly conveyed the loneliness and despair
she continued to feel every morning due to her failed marriage. There is quite
a bit of imagery in the title due to her selection of the words “sheep” and
“fog”. These words are often associated with confusion and being lost; thus, the
title represents uncertainty of the future as her innocent self wanders a path
of mist and blur.
A flower left out.
My bones hold a stillness, the far
Fields melt my heart.
To let me through to a heaven
Starless and fatherless, a dark water. –Sheep
in fog, 1962
This excerpt from the
poem depicts Plath’s thoughts as she enters a state of deep depression, feeling
as if her loneliness is a result of her disappointing the loved ones around
her. Through the act of her husband leaving her, she now feels like a flower
left out, its beauty awaiting its death. She feels numb and lifeless as she is
just collection of bones, holding still as if no other trauma in the world
could ever have the same impact on her. She then thinks of the distant
memories, the far past which seem perfect to her in hindsight and all the happy
times that melt her heart. However, the thought of the perfect past then seems
threatening as traveling too far in old memories brings her to one of her first
experienced tragedies, the death of her father. “Starless and fatherless”
meaning no longer having a male figure to guide her or give her direction, she
no longer feels in control. She is brought upon dark waters and as one is
unable to see through or see the reflection of themselves in murky water, this
symbolizes her complete loss of identity and the darkness of death she waits to
be consumed by.
In many poems Plath describes herself as inanimate objects such as
“a Nazi lampshade” or “a pebble” indicating that she was only physical alive,
perhaps for the sake of her children. In her mind however, she knew she was
mentally dead. Even after the depart of Plath’s father and her husband, they
continued to have great influence on her and her literature as her poems
mention that she continuously felt haunted and controlled by them. While
Plath’s father controlled in death, Ted Hughes controlled her in real life.
Although Plath and Hughes were able to establish a romantic bond during the
initial stages of their relationship, Plath always felt slightly intimidated by
her companion as he had much more success as a writer and “often put a great
deal on her to write something epic and powerful”. Plath’s life was constantly
controlled by dominant male figures both dead and alive who continued to hurt
her emotionally and placed her in a reliant position where “she was left
immovable” and unable to make decisions for herself. Ultimately, Plath’s death
wish was rather a desire to finally gain control over herself and perfect
herself as a woman.