Fever 103° is a poem first published in 1965 as a component of Sylvia Plath’s anthology entitled Ariel. This poem was written in the autumn of 1962, when Plath was struck by the flu and left alone to care for her young children. “Fever 103°” describes a speaker caught in the hallucinogenic state of a high fever, all the while she transcends into her purest form.
One of the predominant themes within this poem is religion. Plath often shares religious ideologies and analyses them through various metaphors and comparisons within her work. Fever 103 describes Plath’s physical purification to detox herself from “sin” which is an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law. This heavily depends on Religious beliefs and she further explores this figurative journey with imagery such as “Three days. Three nights.” or a comparison “as the world hurts God”. However, the speaker’s purification does not resemble typical religious rituals, which take place as part of a community, but is instead an individual struggle, out of which she emerges as exceptional. This is a theory shared in another one of Plath’s poetry, Lady Lazarus. Within Lady Lazarus, the poet is emerging from death like a beautiful theatrical, biblical figure deemed “the pure gold baby”. The idea of decomposition and rebirth are shared between both poems. While Sylvia both explores the concept that, to reach purity and exude full potential, she must “burn” or “peel”. In Fever 103, she testifies that the heat emitted by her flu symptoms are those of a “hellish fire”, meant to detach herself from her impurities. Lady Lazarus is a theoretical comparison in which, likewise, the poet endures “dying” as a transitional phase into her spiritual cleanse.
Furthermore, Fever 103 explores the topic of glorification and sexual desire. Sylvia Plath often uses promiscuous imagery to illustrate an idea about female sexualisation. In specific, Fever 103 connects to share and female desire. The poet deepens her analogies with the mention of desperation in the repetition “Love, love” where she seemingly pleads for help from a male lover to rescue her from her “fright”. This attitude later transitions with her experience of transcendence when she later grows independent and elaborates on her newly founded self-confidence in sexual exploration. On the Road by Jack Kerouac is a novel shared within our Synoptic Topic. The story has a common subject matter with Marylou. Within the chaos of Dean and Marylou’s relationship, this female character is painted as a slave to her lover. She is held within the confinements of society’s understanding that women of their time were merely useful in the kitchen or to please male sexual fantasies. Marylou is qualified as “a golden beauty” in page 153, or a “whore” noted on page 163. This crude portrayal of females in Kerouac’s novel crosses the same objectification seen in Fever 103. Sylvia, however, separates herself from this gender prejudice in the line “Not you, nor him” and even “(my sleeves dissolving, old whore petticoats)”. Unlike Marylou who is damned to remain a figure of sexual attractiveness, the poet will reject this provocative identity and reach her pure potential.
Subsequently, On the Road explores another theme held within our poem. The post war period is affected by a loss of identity and constant longing for a purpose in a chaotic environment. Fever 103 describes the poet caught in a hallucinogenic state of a high fever that pulls her into an epiphany that she will cleanse herself from her past sin. On The Road shares the same understanding that, if the protagonists search and “keep rolling”, they might find a purpose and form a new identity. The poet in Fever 103 outlines the importance of “glowing and coming and going” in order to reach purity which is her god given purpose.
In conclusion, Fever 103 explores a vision of shedding her past sins to reach Heaven and complete clarity. Her transcendent experience shares the thought of self assurance, division of sinful behaviour and redefinition equally featured in her other poem, Lady Lazarus as well as On The Road by Jack Kerouac.