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Plath’s Anger

As with most poets, Sylvia Plath’s life greatly influenced her writing. This is true not only in style but in subject matter. Plath pulled elements of her life (her marriage with Ted Hughes and her growing up with her father) and placed them in the context of her poetry. It may safely be surmised then, that the anger with which a reader finds embedded in Plath’s work, was also found in Plath’s life. This essay will seek to find the route of Plath’s anger and to develop a thesis which examines this anger and finds concrete examples as proof in her poetry.

The essay will examine two poems of Plath’s body of work: Lady Lazarus and Daddy. Plath’s Lady Lazarus begins with the idea of resurrection. The story of Lazarus in the bible is that he is the only man Christ raises from the dead and allows into heaven. The story is that Christ spoke an incantation over Lazarus’ body which allowed the man to be revived and he was taken bodily into heaven. Thus, he was spared a second death. In Plath’s poem, it may safely be surmised that the narrator too is someone revived from death, as Plath writes, And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three (Plath lines 21-22). Thus, the narrator states she has died three times (either physically or metaphorically) and that she has six more to go. The anger that is expressed in this statement is a resigned anger to an inevitable event; the narrator seems to know without a doubt that she will die again and although her initial anger may have dulled, she is still angry. It is interesting to note that the narrator dies and comes again nine times, but along with her death she also murders, as Plath writes, Out of the ash I rise with my red hair And I eat men like air (Plath lines 82-84).

In these lines, in becomes apparent that the narrator has found an outlet for her anger; in eating men. Although this is a statement made with anger, the reader may also logically guess that it is also a statement about sex. In Plath’s poetry the act of sex and the emotion of anger often are coupled. The narrator, then, if assuming that ‘eating men’ is about sex, becomes made into a Siren or a Succubus image in Plath’s work. The latter is probably more adequate a description for the narrator since the Succubus is a female daemon who indeed devours men (both physically and their souls).

The red hair image further illustrates evil, as red hair in Irish folklore and German folklore often meant a bad omen (if one was to see a red-haired woman upon leaving their house, death would follow quickly). In these lines then, Plath utilizes her anger, and projects it onto men; in devouring them, then eats up her anger toward them. Along with the allusion to sex and anger, Plath further elaborates on her emotion through the use of religion (this fact may already be witnessed in her use of the Succubus – a religious image from Greek times, albeit an evil image). In the same ‘breathe’ Plath states,

Herr God, Herr Lucifer (Plath line 78) therefore cementing two male icons (one good, one evil) as one, without differentiation. The reader may guess from this that the narrator then does not have the same views of good and evil as is traditionally thought in religion. Therefore, the ‘eating of men’ may be a rite of passage for this resurrected narrator – since Christian religion allows for its followers to eat the bread of the flesh and the wine represents the blood of Christ, then perhaps eating the men, consuming them, gives the narrator strength to continue her resurrections.

This consumption however, is definitely not a sign of placating her anger. If anything, this image only strengthens the metaphor of Plath’s rage at the male ego. Although the narrator of Lady Lazarus is obviously a soul that has been tortured (a torture which causes her to have committed suicide three times, and by which she self proclaims to be a Jew – having survived a personal holocaust). The poem does not give reason behind the actions, but the further progression of the plot of the narrator’s life is revealed.

An interesting underlining tone to the poem (far beneath the barkerlike voice the narrator uses to mockingly detail her life) is a need for love. This may better explain Plath’s anger. It may well be the lack of love in Plath’s life, if not just the narrator’s life, which causes this unforgiveable sorrow and anger voiced so stridently in the poems lines such as in, For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge For the hearing of my heart— It really goes (Plath lines 57 – 59). This reference to the narrator’s heart is very striking; it is said in a tone of dismissive anger, but the reader becomes curious as to the definition of the ‘charge’.

The reader may assume that no man has wanted to sacrifice so much for the narrator’s heart (in essence, he didn’t have that certain something the narrator needed – a specific kind of love). The fact that Plath only mentions her heart once, in a poem filled with sexual innuendo and anger, greatly emphasizes this passage. The idea of love is also illustrated in Plath’s poem Daddy; although the nature of love plays the role between a daughter and her father. In this poem, the first mention of a heart is in reference to Daddy, as Plath writes, The boot in the face, the brute Brute heart of a brute like you (Plath lines 49-50).

Thus, the heart’s first image is of a brute. Therefore, Plath places anger possessing the heart above the heart’s normal functions of love. This was also revealed in Lady Lazarus when the devil and God were spoken in the same phrase, with the same salutation – meaning the distinctions of evil and good are blurred in the emotional life of Plath’s narrator. The second time the heart as a symbol is mentioned in Plath’s poem Daddy is in reference to heartbreak both in adoration and a father’s love (perhaps one and the same), as Plath states, But no less a devil for that, no not Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two (Plath lines 54-56). Plath’s narrator’s anger toward the father image is so very rich in these lines. She at once demoralizes him in a single phrase and tells of her heartbreak. One may surmise that something brutal happened between father and daughter – or perhaps it is more realistic to assume that along with the lovers in Lady Lazarus the father too is unable to give the narrator the love she needs. And it is the lack of this love which causes her anger. Something with a hole in it that cannot be filled becomes sour, much like an apple. And a rotten apple ruins any other apple that comes close to it.

That is the best metaphor to describe Plath’s anger, and the narrator’s anger. In further illustrating anger from a lack of love, the third time the heart is mentioned in Daddy it is in reference to the father’s heart: Plath has made the father a black man, a brute, a Nazi, and finally he becomes a vampire in the final stanza. This image of the vampire is truly telling: a vampire is part of the undead (a connection may be found between this image and the death of Lazarus and the eventual resurrection in the bible story as well as in Plath’s incorporation of it) both living and dying at the same time.

The one element which the vampire desires is blood, and in order to kill a vampire a stake must be plunged into its heart. This is what Plath alludes to in the final stanza, There’s a stake in your fat black heart (Plath line 76). In order to consider murdering one’s own father, there are definite issues of anger involved (as may be read in referring to the father as a ‘bastard’ in the final stanza). It is clear that in Plath’s poetry there is an abundance of anger.

This anger may rightly be caused from a lack of love. That is to say that the narrator’s of each poem felt that they were missing something, that love the way they needed it from lovers or from a father, was not being given to them in the right way, or not enough. This sentiment is returned to the narrator in the fact that Daddy was a vampire among other allusions, and the heart of a vampire is dust (that is to say that it doesn’t beat, it isn’t a living thing anymore).

Therefore, the lack of a heart in the dead, as Lazarus may be assumed to be, would emphasize the anger of the narrator in Lady Lazarus if indeed she too is to the living dead – ready to six more times, like the cat with nine lives. It is clear that Plath’s writing depicts anger in women out of feeling suppressed by men, since men are alluded to in the vilest of terms. Works Cited Modern American Poetry. On Lady Lazarus & Daddy. Online. 29 March 2009. <http://www. english. illinois. edu/MAPS/poets/m_r/plath/lazarus. htm>

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