Beauty and Horror Essay
Sylvia Plath writing uses a plethora of images of horror combined with images built around beauty to incite contradictory emotions within the reader . She uses strong, thought-provoking images to etch her messages deeply on the reader’s mind. Most of her poems are essentially about her father and her thoughts and emotions enveloping her his memories.
Sylvia Plath’s father died when she as 8. It is believed that, at that stage Sylvia Plath was developing an Electra Complex.So when her father died, she felt betrayed by him because she felt that he did not care enough for her to try to live (Otto Plath had disease and he refused to be diagnosed. The disease proved to be fatal). To Plath, her father’s death seemed like a act of suicide, and this generated a great deal of anger, hatred and sadness in her and these emotions, together with her obvious love for her father form the fundamental elements for her poems.
Her poetry is therefore a string of antagonistic images of beauty and horror.In order to get the readers to empathize with her, Plath saturates her poetry with images which will induce the emotion she tries to convey to her readers. She does this with great skill and with apparent ease. One of her most effective skills is her ability to create a suitable environment for her poems.
In poems like “Daddy”, she creates a childish milieu mainly by using numerous free-flowing “oo” sounds. The title itself projects an image of a child. Her use of childish word and phrases like “gobbledygoo” and “my pretty red her in two” accentuates the “childishness” of the poem.But in the poem, she juxtaposes a word like “gobbledgoo”, which evokes a pleasant, peaceful, feeling with a word like Luftwaffe(the german airforce during the World War II), which, at the time this poem was written, would have almost always incite a sense of terror and odium in the reader.
She creates two parallel atmospheres, and there is a definite friction between these two settings. And it is through this conflict, this tension between beauty and repugnance and horror, that she conveys her feelings to the reader.After evoking contradicting feelings within the readers mind with the dual environments in her poetry, she uses conflicting images to heighten the sense of dissension in the reader. In the poem “Daddy”, in the third stanza, she produces an image of a blue, beautiful sea. A calm and tranquil image which she relates to her father, (In the water of the beautiful Nauset, I used to pray to recover you).
However in the 7th paragraph, she converts her relationship with her father into a Nazi-Jew relationship, and she projects an image of german trains transporting Jews to concentration camps in Poland, the place of her fathers origin.Through this incompatible images, she communicates her differing emotions to audience quite successfully. In some of the poems, she often uses beauty to intensify the sense of repulsiveness and horror she wishes to convey to the reader. There is a perfect example of this in her poem “Electra on Azalea Path”.
In the third paragraph Plath uses “ersatz petals”, and “artificial evergreen” to accentuate the ugliness of her father’s grave’s setting. She says “In the basket of evergreen they put beside At the headstone next to yours, nor does it rot, Although the rain dissolves a bloody dyeThe ersatz petals drip, and they drip red She uses an object, a petal of flower, which beauty is normally associated to and she gives it an artificial feeling. The colour of a red rose is linked to blood. Here, she is essentially transforming beauty into grotesqueness by giving beauty an artificial attribute and by directly relating it to ugliness(“the rain dissolves an bloody dye”); the image projected is strong enough to generate a feeling of horror in the reader. In the poem “Stings” she induces a sense of morbidity and impending destruction by using a queen bee made ugly by time, as a metaphor for herslef.In paragraph four of the poem, she says “Her wing torn shawls, her long body Rubbed of its plush” She makes the bee unattractive by stripping it of its attributes which would have made bee beautiful.
Here she is transforming herself into the queen bee, in that the only task of the queen bee is to reproduce and that is the way, she feels, she is viewed by the society. Plath converts a beautiful creature and converts it into an ugly one, its beauty diminishing with time. She feels that this will be her fate and that she is unable to avert that fate. Her beauty is directly metamorphosed into ugliness.Plaths use of contradictory images reaches its peak she speaks her suicide attempts. Sylvia Plath was greatly hurt by her fathers dead.
She attempted to commit suicide 4 times and succeeded in doing so on the 4th time. In the poem “Electra on Azalea Path” Plath she asserts that her suicide attempts was caused by her father’s death. “I am the ghost of an infamous suicide..
. It was my love that did us both to death”. Her poetry contains numerous references to her suicide attempts and the images created by these references that she goad the most horror, supplemented by trickles of beauty; projecting provocative, and disturbing images.In Lady Lazarus, Plath says “Dying is an art”. She is associating death with the beauty of an art form, generating horror in the reader at Plath’s perverse fascination for death. The next stanza build on this initial image.
“I do it so it feels like hell I do it so it feels like real. I guess you could say I have a call. ” This stanza amplifies the reader’s horror in that it show Plath’s pride in her ability to kill herself whenever she wants to. This seems to give seems to give her a sense of power and the reader would get this feeling from most of her poetry that her only sense of power over her life is her power to end it.Most of Plaths writing has been provoked by her father’s death. Her father’s ignorance of the disease which later proved to be fatal, has left a burning imprint of rage and frustration in her mind at a very impressionable age.
But these feelings were not able to submerge her love for her father. Later on, these feeling of hatred and love, were the stimuli of most of her poems. Since these poem were governed by two totally different emotions, the poems were composed to images empathizing two totally different sensations, beauty and horror.She uses a variety of methods to achieve her goals, creating two contrasting settings for the same poem and the resulting friction constantly reminding the reader of her conflicting emotions, visual imageries which would evoke both horror and hatred, and beauty and love. She also uses beauty to magnify the grotesqueness of objects. Her use of metaphors forces the reader to contemplate on her situation deeply, and begs the reader to empathize with her.
Plath’s poetry is an effective mixture of beauty and horror which compels the author to travel through Plath’s mind and absorb and reflect on her thought and emotions.