We are in complete and total control of our thoughts, actions and everyday decisions… whether we choose to believe this is down to us. Throughout my life, I have had several times where I stopped to question myself and my happiness, and what I was doing to feed and maintain it. My curiosity for this sparked when I realised that we, as human beings have this strange need or conditioning to not take responsibility for our own happiness. We expect it to come from an outside source. Now, this can happen, but it’s fleeting. True happiness has to come from within.
Throughout this term, myself and my classmates have been studying the work of the highly recognized female novelist and poet, Sylvia Plath. Alongside her work, we have been analysing the 2012 survival drama film based on Yann Martel’s 2001 novel Life Of Pi. Plath’s work has been recognized as being dark and gloomy displaying common poetic devices of vivid imagery, metaphors and similes. It seems to be that on the one hand we have a poet who talks about her profoundly tragic and never-ending existence and her belief of the lack of control she has over herself and her environment and on the other hand we have someone (Pi) who has completely and utterly no control over his environment, yet full control over his emotions and how he reacts to the situation he is in.
In analysing Sylvia Plath’s work, it is clear that nature and the environment had a profound impact on her mental health and the decisions that she made. This is shown throughout her poem ‘I am vertical’ where she narrates her internal desperation for true beauty and worthy function within the world. The poem’s title reads as a first-line and is immediately answered with the speakers wish: “But I would rather be horizontal”. As Plath continues to give details on her vertical life on earth, she clearly shows how she feels ignored by the nature surrounding her. She continues to anthropomorphize as she states: “I walk among them, but none of them are noticing”.
In the case of both Plath and Pi, it was not the environment that they could control, but rather their reaction to it. Evidently, Sylvia Plath felt as though she had no autonomy over her life. This can be seen in many of her poems, perhaps most notably in her poem “Tulips”, which was written when Plath was hospitalised for an appendectomy.
In this work, for example, we see Plath’s response to being placed in an environment that she didn’t want to be in. She wished, so terribly, to be free. Through the analysis of this poem, we can assume that the poet felt constricted by her environment, and this contributed to her deteriorating mental state. Tulips, however, is full of vivid imagery. Each stanza builds up a stage scene, from the initial peaceful, white walls of the hospital room, to the loud, excitable tulips who remind the speaker of open-mouthed African cats.
Colour plays an important role in this poem and adds to the deeply emotional feelings the speaker experiences. White is chosen as a symbol of peace, virginity and winter – and eventually death. The red of the tulips represents the life-force, from that of a carnivore to the bodily wound, the surfacing of blood. Each line of the poem focuses on the all-important and harmful tulips, their redness hurting, their ability to communicate disturbing things. The tulips are becoming stronger and taking on a life of their own. The redness of the tulips pains her, and she believes she can hear them breathing lightly through their wrapping paper. The colour also speaks subtly to the colour of her wound. The tulips oppress and upset her, and she compares them to ‘a dozen red lead sinkers round [her] neck,’ dragging her down. She used to be alone in the room, but now the tulips share her space, watching her and eating up the oxygen. She feels caught between the tulips and the window behind her, believing she has lost her face while surrounded by flowers and the sun… all of this is proof that Sylvia has a clear dissociation from real life.
Another example of a work that analyses the relationship between humans and the environment is Life of Pi. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi is the story of a young man who survives a harrowing shipwreck and 227 days in a lifeboat with a large Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Many have interpreted the film as portraying “a battle between religion, science and spirituality”. Belief in God is a major theme in Life of Pi and has been the most controversial in reviews of the film. Throughout the novel, Pi makes his belief in and love of God clear—it is a love profound enough that he can transcend the classical divisions of religion, and worship as a Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. By comfortably following three of the world’s major religions, Pi represents not just the possibility of peaceful coexistence between different faiths but also the belief that different religions are merely alternative paths to the same destination. The primacy of survival, loss of innocence and storytelling are also recurring themes in the film.
Pi, much like Sylvia Plath, was placed in a situation in which he had no control of. While Pi’s situation is incredibly compelling, what makes the film so engaging is his response to the challenges that he faced. Unlike Plath, Pi still had hope and optimism after all he had faced because of the strength he received from God. It is shown that without his faith in God, Pi would have had nothing to turn to during his time stranded at sea. Pi prayed for the daily miracles he needed to stay alive. When the reality of sharing a lifeboat with Richard Parker hit Pi, he felt terrified and hopeless. As he considered giving up, he heard a voice in his heart telling him to fight to survive. Pi finds within himself a determination to deal with his circumstances and live, regardless of what his external environment was doing. Pi believed that the mere fact of living from day to day would qualify as a miracle, showing the presence of God with him. As long as Pi remained faithful—and worked hard—he could survive. As Pi stated, “it is by surviving and making sense of all that goes wrong in the world, that uncovers the meaning of man”.
To sum things up, yes, we as human beings get easily and heavily influenced by the environment we place ourselves in. It is in our nature to adapt to the things around us, to feel as if we ‘fit in’… but at the end of the day it truly comes down to us on how we choose to react to our external influences. Whether you believe this or not, there’s always an option to change the world around you. However, most people don’t think about starting by changing from within. We tend to believe that until the things around us are different, we can’t be emotionally sound or feel good about our lives. If Pi managed to do it, my question here is… why can’t we?