I’be been reading Sylvia Plath lately because I’m writing my graduation thesis about her. I like her prose a lot, but her poetry is a more difficult topic. In prose her language floats and it sometimes feels a lot like poetry but with less decoding needed.
The poetry is very personal to her. I’ve read 2 or 3 biographies about her life to be able to understand it. I’ve especially grown to like ‘Electra on Azalea Path’ and ‘The Jailer’. Electra is about her father and his death. She expresses her wish to take her mother’s place as his mourner because she never did it properly, Sylvia believed. Aurelia Plath, Sylvia’s mother did not want to cry in front of her young children so Sylvia believed she did not feel bad about her husband’s passing. You can’t hide from the things you fear, it seems. Aurelia’s remembered having anxiety whenever she saw her mother cry and in an attempt to shield her children from grief, she caused (at least in Sylvia’s case) severe internal damage.
‘The Jailer’ poses a more complicated issue, at least for me. In this poem the voice of the speaker accuses someone of being her captor and rapist. She accuses him of fooling her with ‘fakery’ and starving her, feeding her only lies. The poem is most probably addressed to Ted Hughes, her husband who had cheated on her. They had two young children together and Sylvia found out that he was cheating when she answered a phone call from his lover that she was not supposed to. The accusations of rape, I believe come from her feeling that she did not know who her husband really was. In her letters to her mother and in her journal, Sylvia always praised Ted. She seemed to be quite happy that she had found someone who she considered was her superior. The fact that he turned out to be someone else, someone who let her down meant that Sylvia didn’t give her consent to him, but to the man she thought he was. The betrayal she felt is obvious. It should be mentioned that the two married approximately 4 months after they met, so I suspect neither one of them knew the other too well.
During her life she struggled a lot. Her internal conflicts were strong and abundant. The good daughter who wanted to help her single mother trying to raise two children versus the hurt daughter who felt her father was taken away from her too soon and that was somehow her mother’s fault. The good student versus the adventurous youth. The writer versus the nurturing wife and mother. She wanted it all, no giving up, only hard work.