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Refusal Of Social Conventions In Sylvia Plath’s Poetry

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Post-world war II period is incomplete without the name of Sylvia Plath. Plath being a significant artist, turned out to be reputable after her suicide in 1963. She has recognized herself because of her famous collection Ariel which hold alarming and acclaimed stanzas. She used bold and wild metaphors, repeatedly disrupting and violent symbolism to summon mythic characteristics in humankind. Her poems speak of social criticism investigating individual and female identity, agony, subjugation and the certainty, inescapable death. Her work explores personal as well as public pain and misery. Her aspirations of discovering happiness through work and family has ruined by miscarriage and the separation of her marriage. Moreover, she felt helpless against male control and undermining common powers, especially demise. Her poems put many question marks on the social status like marriage, mother, relationship with men, sexual and mental lives. The possibility to erase these question marks was through creative writing. But, writing only evokes to think about painful past. The issue for her and maybe the principle issue of Cold War America is in the second part of an argumentative perception, a familiarity with oneself in huge connection to past and future. As Heather McClave echo an interesting quote by Wilfred Owen in his article titled as Sylvia Plath: Troubled Bones, “It was not despair, or terror, it was more than terror, for it was a blindfold look, and without expression, like a dead rabbit’s”. Plath seemed trapped between the expectations of others and between self and society. A leading assessment of societal impediments experienced by females lead Plath life to suicide.

Plath’s worry with identity wound up bold. In ‘Daddy,’ she straightforwardly pronounces her rebelliousness, cutting off the order and ties of convention that so choked her before in her life. She embraces a few techniques to carry out her finish of freedom, verbally abusing, new identification, disdain, disgrace and violence. She considered herself to be a result of a male society, formed by men to suit their specific impulses or necessities. Her exposure with other women in this setting drove unavoidably to struggle and rivalry. This ambivalence in her own self has never solved, never removed or more regrettable, never understood. She had looked for individualism in conventional points such as gender, marriage, and work but on the other side however these points had not discovered adequate strands to lace her different selves together. Though, she had looked for her character in unconventional points like the psyche, composing creativity and expectations but even these ruined her. For instance, in ‘Daddy,’ her most as often as regularly discussed work, Plath condemn her dad’s power and control over her life and among different suggestions, relate him with Nazism and herself with Jewish casualties of the Holocaust. Plath’s association with her partner provided her with content for poems holding also violent symbolism, where women have debated as dolls and men as fanciful notion. The element of presence terrifies her being in the creation. She changes into an existential revolutionary. She experienced existential self-doubt for her entire life which is obvious from her poetry filled with anguish. She perceived regularly that she needed to hold living on to something and must find a reason to live because the ground under her feet was sliding away. She wound up frightful as death has wished for with an express dismay of resurrection or to run away into a universe of creativity. She wanted an escape from the harsh society. It was poetry which comes to rescue her from anxiety.

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Existentialists believed that an individual both men and women have freedom and choice to live their own life as one desired. But this idea seems challenged by Plath as her freedom and choice had controlled by the evils of society. In this way, violence within her self appeared when her freedom has trapped by a society which celebrates patriarchy. Hence, the violent imagery used by Plath in her poems speaks the violence within herself and the violence with her. Her disdain for customary signs, conventional traditions is a hatred for the fake self in herself for the inauthentic reactions, which are trying to build up a self in the world. Sylvia Plath is talking with eagerness her hatred towards the job of a female in any society. The job of a spouse, mother and the confinements of a female has looked in a low status. She feels that the female has caught in a fixed role push onto her by the society. She dislikes the experience of oppression by the society to accept the job push onto her with reference to one’s gender. Plath can see legitimately a void, a nothingness when she finds herself voiceless, detached, futile and submissive. The feeling of the self in the life self-destructs when the experience of reality starts to escape belief and firmness. Plath wanted an escape from the puzzle and cage of individualism and subjectivity defined by the society.

For Plath, there was a continuous violence between her consciousness and unconsciousness state of mind. The symbol of ‘black shoe’ in Plath’s poem entitled as “Daddy” highlights the entrapment of an individual in the cultural and social codes which are against the behavior of individual at social level. All her life in this black shoe she remained quiet and suffered. By using the violent and unforgiving words and images, she tried to put her unconscious state of mind on the paper. All these harsh images speak of the treatment of harsh social ethics upon an individual especially on a female. The complex images tried to search deeper truths for Plath. She finds that there is no agency to her as her life will always rule by authoritative male persons. Plath wanted to discovered personal unconsciousness and wanted to flee from the identity burst upon her by others. At the end of this poem, probably, by asserting that she had killed one man shows the completion of the actions revolving in her unconscious mind. Though through poetically yet she revengefully won and critique the haunting figure of Daddy. Daddy reveals recognition of social reflection that challenges human behaviors. Moreover, she used many political symbols in this respective poem which highlight the involvement of politics in personal self and relations.

Likewise, in another poem “Mirror” Plath highlights social stereotypes magnetized with females. Mirror reminds and reflect that a woman should look in a certain way so that the society will accept her. Another critical point to be highlight is that there is fixed age for beauty of females. After crossing this age typically, a female usually not considered as beautiful. Whereas, there is no fixed age for males and no beauty criteria. Likewise, a hero can be of 40 or 50 but the heroine must be of 25. For example, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar are still casted as heroes while, Shilpa Shetty and Madhuri Dixit are not seen in current movies as the leading role of heroines. The hero always need a young heroine. These types of inherent truths have questioned and the need of hour is to unlearn these inherent truths. Plath as a female headed to mental illness by an oppressive dad, an unfaithful spouse, and the requirements that parenthood made on her. Plath understood that in between these social values she had lost herself and is unable to find it. Mirror symbolizes as a social mirror which reminds male gaze constantly reminding social morals to females. She was troubled between the social pressures of beauty, youth, purity and an object of inferiority expected from her. There is constant fight between the external part of perfection (conscious) demanded by the society and internal role of perfection (unconscious) demanded by the inner self of an individual. May be Plath’s suicide is the result of this inner violence which reject the social perfection. An individual has no control over her own self rather the external factors of a society has control especially on the female self. We as humans are constantly in need to see our reflection, praise and approval but miserably the patriarchal system of a society controls this approval for their own egoistic needs. It is okay for a man to be selfish but when it comes to a female it is consider as a sin. Plath has raised voice for all the modern victims. Plath uses the symbolism to emphasize her very own trauma, yet an image should consistently convey a solid interpretation of its own. To her interest with death and agony she brings a feeling of battle and savage power in women. She is powerless, indeed, to father and husband. Her absence of traditional belief, her ruinous hatred for her family, the flaws in her marriage, the floating, rootless anger, the interest with sensation and the medicine of death, the assurance to take an attempt to do everything, realizing it would not by any stretch of the imagination stop the agony, no one went the extent that she did in her poems.

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Refusal Of Social Conventions In Sylvia Plath’s Poetry. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
“Refusal Of Social Conventions In Sylvia Plath’s Poetry.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
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