Sylvia Plath

Portrait: Sylvia PlathIn many ways, this feminine figure leads us to the core of our problem, where contradictions accumulates and became unsufferable. Silvia Plath was 30 when, in a winter morning, she took her own life turning on the gas, in a London house she lived in with her two children after breaking up with her husband, poet Ted Hughes. A few days before this, her book “The Bell Jar” had been published, where she retraced in an autobiographical style her youth and her first suicide attempt. Still unpublished her Ariel lyrics which would make her famous, at first refused by editors as too fierce.
It is hard to synthesize in a few lines such a complex and contradictory figure, torn between exaltation moments and absolute suicidal desperation. Her life is the story of both success and self-destruction hunting by an intelligent and highly ambitious young woman, whose external shell of bright talents concealed a core of unexplicable fury.
Her life’s problem was to conciliate her desire to be intelligent and “feminine” in the most conventional sense (visible, for instance, in her letters to her mother in which she only allowed herself to chatter about recipes, clothing and family happiness, etc.) in spite of the originality and strong rage she felt inside herself. Such a contradiction was, of course, perfectly visible to everybody who knew her well: “at first the cheerful and smiling mask she presented everybody, and then, behind this, the determined, insistent, obsessed, impatient person who, whenever things did not work as she wanted, had sudden fits of anger… ” (4)
Sylvia wanted to be a personage endowed with bright perfection, but whenever she could not keep control of her wounded vulnerability, and she was terribly vulnerable, her revenging nature exploded in a way devastating for all who were around her.
As soon as she realized how destructive her jealousy fits were (“Yes, I want the world’s praise, money and love and I am angry at everybody, especially at those I know or those I had a similar experience with, and won me.”), she seeked medical help, as she had been also affected by a very strong sleeplessness that wore her out all the more.
From a professional viewpoint, Sylvia Plath, at 30, is a very successful woman, but she does not want to admit to herself the price she paid for this. She cannot have friends (she is considered malevolent, jealous and full of anger, as noticed above); her highly praised marriage to Ted Hughes has gone to pieces, it has been a bad investment: the poems typewritten for him, setting his career above hers, nothing was left to her. He had another woman partner and she lived alone with her two very small children to take care of, working to the limit of her strength overnight too, keeping fighting a depression which devoured her for years.
Her tragical death is even more stunning if we think of how little time she allowed herself to mature.

In this personage we find all the traditional and obvious sources of feminine discomfort, which proudly Sylvia Plath fought just by ignoring them:

  • A risk factor linked to her age and biological role, 30 years, two small children, with a very unstable economic situation and far from her originary family;
  • A risk factor linked to the fact Sylvia Plath in many ways was a lonely woman, lacking female friends, as she considered her female peers potential rival.
  • Finally, Sylvia Plath did not fear her ambition, her literary success, but since she was a young woman behaved in a very sensible way in this sense (she sent her novels to magazines, she obtained scholarships, etc.). Even though, hers was a “masculine style” career: she removed her cohesion and intimacy needs, paying an enormous price in personal unhappiness.

A set of contradictions which sent her in a chasm of desperation, leading her to suicide, a really hard choice for a woman. We have to remember that women attempt suicide more frequently than men, but about 70% of successful attempts is men’s.

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