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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

15. Poetry of Liberation

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Activities: Author Activities

Sylvia Plath - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: Plath's poems about motherhood are often surprising for their objectivity. In "Morning Song," why does the speaker say "I'm no more your mother . . ."? What does she mean here? What is the significance of the image of the museum? How does this mother feel toward her new infant? Does the tone change in the poem?

  2. Comprehension: Like many of Plath's poems, Lady Lazarus begins "in medias res," or "in the middle." In other words, the reader does not immediately understand the context or situation of the poem. In "Lady Lazarus" the speaker announces, "I have done it again." What is the it? Who is the peanut-crunching crowd?

  3. Comprehension: Authors carefully consider their titles, often choosing them to set the tone of the work. Why do you think Plath chose the title "Daddy"? Why didn't she use "Father," or some other epithet, instead? What tone does this create? How does it fit with the content of the poem?

  4. Context: What is the tone of "The Applicant"? Who is the speaker? To whom is he or she speaking? What is the role of repetition in this poem? How might this poem be connected to 1950s culture?

  5. Context: Like other feminist works, Plath's poetry frequently uses the symbol of the body. How does the body in poems like "Lady Lazarus" or "Metaphors" compare to that by other poets in this unit? You might consider Audre Lorde's "Black Mother Woman" and Lorna Dee Cervantes's "The Body as Braille."

  6. Context: Many of Plath's poems seem to engage the theme of transcendence; often, the speaker leaves or sheds the physical body (the end of "Lady Lazarus" is a good example); and frequently, her speakers commune with nature in interesting ways. "Ariel" is ostensibly about the speaker's ride on a horse, but it seems to take on mythic qualities by the end of the poem. Is the ride a metaphor for something else? What images seem particularly strange or unique? What is the "red / Eye, the cauldron of morning"? How might this be considered a poem of transcendence?

  7. Exploration: The cultural critic Theodor Adorno was famous for saying that there could be no poetry after Auschwitz, and indeed, many poets remained silent on the subject for many years. Plath has been widely criticized for her use of Holocaust imagery in "Lady Lazarus" and "Daddy." Why do you think she uses these images? What is the effect of the references to the Holocaust in these poems?

  8. Exploration: Sylvia Plath has become an icon in feminism since her death in 1963. Some people argue that her sensationalized life accounts for her large following, but other critics and readers agree that her poetry appeals to a wide audience for different reasons. Perhaps one explanation is that Plath's poetry often articulates the struggle outlined by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique. In other words, many of Plath's speakers seem unhappy, even desperate, in a domestic space that seems to offer few outlets for creative or intellectual expression. What other reasons can you point to for Plath's popularity among both scholars and general readers? How does her work embody many of the concerns of feminism?

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