Last Updated 11 Jan 2023

An Analysis of Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel” Through Feminist Critique

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'To what extent is feminist criticism helpful in opening LID potential meanings in Sylvia Plath’s ‘Ariel‘poets collection? Feminist criticism is helpful in the way that it helps us understand the female experience and the male-dominated ideology that seeks to limit women's lives and defines their existence. Plath questions 'whose voices are heard and whose attitudes and values are assumed‘” which is reflected in her poetry. Her ‘Ariel‘ collection helps to draw attention to the patriarchal system in society, which Plath was vocal in challenging and arguably played its pan in the decision to end her life. Plath's poetry can be seen to examine how the notions of feminine ‘perfection' stifle and restrict women. Feminist critics view the poem. “Edge'. It be significant because it exposes how the “perfected" lifestyle of women can become the means of their destruction. It begins "The woman is perfected, Her dead body wears the smile of accomplishment". This use of third-person narration ”immediately creates an impersonal tone - one of detachment and anonymity. almost like the site has no sense of self. And yet she is described as “perfected" it could be suggested that “The Women' is now only perfect as she is voiceless and passive, with all means of agency removed. Her body wearing the “smile of accomplishment" implies this is seen as a success and one she should be content with. This line reflects how women can be dehumanized by a male-dominated society that seeks to control and silence them.

The idea that women are perfected only by death is assigned throughout the poem when it considers how the maternal role can be a kind of 'death' too. “Each dead child. coiled. a white serpent. one at each little pitcher of milk. new empty ‘ Plath has taken the image of a woman breastfeeding her children which would typically be about nurture and life and instead related it to death. The children are described as a “white serpent" which brings with it connotations of danger. death and poison, almost like they are killing her. Furthermore. Plath can be seen to expose the way that women's bodies are viewed as a territory in her presentation of childbearing. It is suggested that they are seen as successful once their body has been used to fulfill the needs of men a “perfected". in this way. it is possible to consider a biographical reading rather than just a feminist one ‘Edge' was written only a week before her suicide‘”. and it could be argued that Plath is aligning herself w h the character of ‘The Women" and the poem is a reflection of her fragile state of mind at the time. a reading that encourages more of the psychological context to be considered not just her views on the male-dominated society at the time.

'Texts are often criticized for focusing on male protagonists while women have marginal roles“. this shows that women have restricted power in society, Iim' 'ng them to live accordingly to male power. The poem ‘Daddy' enhances the submissive lifestyle of women. “I could hardly speak. I thought every German was you". this highlights the voiceless relationship that a woman may share with a man. “i thought every German was you" set up a negative atmosphere because she feels like she is a victim of her father, she associates him with the Nazi's. The Nazi‘s controlled and oppressed the Jews. mirroring the male-dominated society. The restricting and controlling ways of men are expressed during Plath's work and they help perfects a woman’s life. Plath's poetry also helps to expose the way that women are objectitied by a “cultural domination of males" ‘1‘. It can be said that women were treated and considered as property of men. mirroring the social circumstances of the time - in the 1960‘s women had less autonomy and opportunities. meaning that many had to rely fmancrally on men and fulfil the role dictated to them. Women's value was often seen as mere entertainment and ornament. This is emphasised in the poem Lady Lazarus which implies that suicide is the only way a woman can be tree.

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The uhyectrrying language reflect how women were treated. For example, the line “1 am your opus". The word ‘opus' suggests that women symbolize an. implying they are used purely for male voyeurism. This reflects the male gaze, which is the idea of women being perceived as sexual objects to benefit the male, victimizing women in society as they are reduced to a man's possession, just something to look at. The possessive pronoun “your" highlights this idea that women are ‘owned'. Plath identifies her lack of value as a woman by aligning herself with those that suffered in concentration camps. Her description of her skin as a “Nazi lampshade“ and her face to “Jew linen". suggests that she sees herself as a victim of society. without control over their lives and suffering under a cruel regime. This imagery also relates to household ObJCCIS- ‘Lampshades ‘ and ‘linen' reflecting the domestic expectations of women in the late 1950s, ’Lady Lazarus' therefore helps reveal the objectification and harsh reality of a society where there is an" unequal power relations between men and women” m. Feminist criticism helps to expose male domination and violence which is thoroughly expressed in the poem ‘Daddy".

The symbolic language used by Plath focuses on the struggles of a woman's identity in society and the patriarchal structures that limit her. The opening reference to “black shoe" instantly sets a negative tone. From a psychological point of view. “black" evokes connotations of suffering. sadness and death. whilst “shoe“emphasizes the isolation and limitation that one may experience in the 1960's 7 an oppressive form that women feel they have tu fit or wear. Plath's views are mirrored through this phrase by revealing that she feels women are oppressed and restricted in society, linking to how in the 1960s. “Very few women work[ed] for a living unless they a [were] driven lD dire necessity”. The use of repetition is constant throughout, referencing both the Germans and how they treated the Jews. Plath aligns men with the Germans suggesting that thev are similar in the way the seek others to exist. Germans limited 2: Jow‘s life, seen through the dehuman ng of those in concentration camps. It can be said that Plath sees herself as a Jew- “Chuifing me off like a Jew - here it is said that she is aligning herself with Jews, this is to highlight how women are Conlmlled and have [0 do things that's instructed; just like Jews has to. “chufting me off" links to how Jews were seni off in a train, furthermore it be said to be reflecting on how a woman is omit-red and limited to such duties.

This is further evidenced “I began to talk like a Jew. I think 1 may well be a Jew". she is comparing herself in Jew here. It could he said that because Jews were discriminated against. she is comparing herself to one as women are in society. Plath highlighting the suffering of Jew‘s sets up a negative atmosphere. implied trorn the immense sadness which is evoked from world war two. Similarly, this aligning or women with Jews. reveals ihe unfair rreainieni of women, which caused by male domination and violence. Sylvia Plath's poetry collection, ‘Ariel’, is broken up with the help of feminist critics. It is understood that the issues of feminism are raised and highlighted. A direct link between her poems and herself is made, suggested through the direct references to her life and suicide. It, therefore, is said that feminist criticism is helpful to open potential meanings ‘Geniust (2019). The woman is perfected. / Her dead/ Body wears the smile of accomplishment, [online].

Available at: https:llgenlus.com14354440 [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019]. zBertens. H. (2001) Literary theory: The Basics, Abingdon: Routledge. pp 94-95 and up 97-99

’Barry. R (2002) Beginning Theory. 2'“1 ed.. Manchester: Manchester university Press, p134, "Google Books. (2019). A Study Guide for Sylvra Plath's "Daddy“. [online]. Available at: hnps:l/books,googlecouk/books? id=ZBOWDQAAQBAJ&pg=PT3&source=gbsfiselectedjages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&i=ialse [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019]. 5 A-Ievel English Literature B, Critical anthology. Feminist ways of reading section 3v page 28

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