Sylvia plath, scion of feminism, the tortured woman, the mentally ill poet has permeated ubiquitously as a cultural emblem with variegated meanings. Everyone loves Plath yet is the Plath of 'Daddy', 'Lady lazarus', the embittered, angry, confessional Plath, the powerful poet who possesses an ineluctable attraction, an unavoidable appeal. The Plath who committed suicide, as though satiating the necrophiliac fantasies of our collective need for suffering, a death that expiates and ennobles. The wronged woman's death is her apotheosis, a befitting ending to a tumultuous life. And let's face it if Plath hadn't taken her life she wouldn't be the Plath she is today.
Yet the more one, with insatiable omnivorousness, absorbs the quotidian aspects of this life the more the mythopoeic stature both diminishes and enhances. The journals demonstrate snippets, moments of being that are startlingly revelatory that unfurl inversely the underwriting of the palimpsest, the unscrolling of the concealed. And the Plath who emerges out of the compendium of work she left behind demonstrates, not the mythic abstraction that transfigures her but a very human, everyday person with basic emotional and physical needs.
Plath comes across as unbelievably precocious. Possessed of a razor sharp sensitivity, the ability to stand outside and look within, the self critical self aware young woman who traverses the quadrangles of 50's America, captured tellingly in Freidan's 'The feminine Mystique', a young woman who wants a deep soulful bond, not a superficial , material unsion. A confident plath exposes male hypocrisy of sexual differentiation yet who, despite her theoretical belief in rightness finds herself being rendered tremulous at the prospect of nonconformity.
Whether it is her intense feeling for Ilo or her self possessed regard for Bob or her idealistic/idealised togetherness with Hughes or the numerous men she dates one senses a rite of passage as though layers of swaddled skin are being shed, the superfluous integument peels off and the true expectation emerges. She longs for marriage yet sees it as a abdication of her writer status. She wants both. Yet with Hughes her language of her relationship is either hyperbolically panegyric or pettily irascible. Noble sentiment mingles with jealousy and misperception and Plath oscillates between the two, capable of being a fit consort yet unsure of being the companion she wants him to be.
Plath demonstrates both tremendous self belief and excoriating self doubt about herself as a writer. She , in moments of sanguine self containment, believes herself gifted and yet the slightest of gossamer mental changes, a shift she unremittingly evinces she plunges into despair. The commercial exiguity of her efforts validates her precarious doubts yet small successes,like mademoiselle or the New york trip reaffirm her tenuous faith. She is capable of unquestioning appreciation as she does for Woolf And Bishop and also of the most condescending scorn as with Adrienne Rich. With Ted she veers between admiration and jealousy. Yet it is this uncertainty that is propulsive, which drives her on. Plath experiments with old forms and reconstitutes them as in 'Dirge for a joker, 'sonnet to satan', To eva descending a stair, Female author, Trio of Love songs. The young plath is fearless and leaps over pyrotechnic verbal leaps in poems like 'Love is a parallax', 'Metamorphoses of the moon', 'Go get the goodly squab'. Plath attenuates later, she diffuses her verbal ingenuity, tones down her dazzling linguistic circumlocutions because desire for acknowledgement is an inevitable accompaniment to artistic integrity. Plath hungers for popular acceptance and her subterrenean desire is for a 'Ladie's home journal' sort of approachability. Yet there are the intransigent high standards that refuse to compromise.
Her descent into madness is unexpressed in her journals and yet disqueting snippets reveal her frangible sanity. She writes compellingly about instances of intense self tortuously poignant deracination of self, a valedictory sense of irrevocability. She tries to understand existentially the roots of her despair and her importunate entreaty to willpower to buttress her counterpoints her deepening self despair. Undoubtedly chemical factors, unexplored fully in the 50's are a significant factor yet Plath seems to be running a rat race with herself as her competitor. Towards her 20th year she seems tired of the effort and that exhaustion transmutes into a indifference and moral apathy towards life. Undoubtedly her weak sense of self contributes to her descent. Yet there is the unceasing romanticization of her illness, the buoyant optimism of manic ecstasies and the histrionic constituents of depression. Her breakdown, Ect, it seems have left the persona underneath unchanged. A superficial identity asserts itself by repudiating the intensity of the darkness, negating the essential components while glorifying their intense emotionalism. She comes across as highly suggestive. Her Mythification of Daddy is precisely that, a mythologizing of a melodramatic nature which sees everything larger than life. Her hatred for her mother seems similarly bloated out of proportion. And the gushy saccharine letters plath writes to her mother aren't dissembling artifices but bursts of expressive happiness as well. As a self conscious woman plath understands her illness in humanist terms and her self beratment for her inadequacy in matching up to those humanist ideals is incommensurate with her self indulgence. This is a plath who worries about her teeth, who shows she hates herself enough to harm herself repeatedly but who loves herself equally to embalm unprepossessing tableax of her life into crystallized works of art. From experience to its transcribing a merciless eye for detail, a powerful imagination, well endowed linguistic skills are highlighted, an integrity to writing yet its commercial desecration as an attendant , longed for desire. The glorification of bipolarity in plath corresponds to Anne sexton's romanticizing too.
Why she killed herself is unfathomable though unceasingly conjectured. The factors could be multitudinous but it is neither the Incendiary lady lazarus or the insane Esther who sums up Plath. The plath who loves avocadoes, believes idealistically in love, is a biting commentator of American civilizationare also fragments of her. Her mythological congealing ensures her persistence but it is these mnemonics, indissoluble parts of her being that make her the woman/poet she is.
'If you pluck out my heart
To find what makes it move
You'll halt the clock
That syncopates our lover'
-from'Trio of love songs'.