Subversion of Motherhood and Womanhood in Plath Essay Example
Subversion of Motherhood and Womanhood in Plath Essay Example

Subversion of Motherhood and Womanhood in Plath Essay Example

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Drawing on your understanding of the poem as well as the critical perspectives that you have gathered regarding Plath’s work, to what extent does Plath use poetic language to subvert the stereotypical image of womanhood and motherhood in her poems “Morning Song” and “The Applicant” ------------------------------------------------- The poetry of Sylvia Plath reflects the entrapment of women in stereotypical gender roles that was the norm in the 1950s and 1960s.As a poet, Plath explores what it means to be a woman in terms of the traditional conflict between family and career, a concern which was one she was almost obsessed with, writing ‘I am afraid of getting married. Spare me from cooking three meals a day – spare me from the relentless cage of routine and rout. I want to be free…’ Through the use of poetic language, she is able to s


ubvert the stereotypical image of womanhood and motherhood, and this is especially seen in her poems ‘Morning Song’ and ‘The Applicant’. The Applicant’ is a portrait of marriage as seen in contemporary Western culture, and Plath writes back at the portrayal of women as objects and marriage is presented as filling a need in a way similar to that of a cast or prosthesis.

The ‘courtship’ and ‘wedding’ in the poem is representative of human relations and the central metaphor of job seeking links the poem with capitalism of the cold war era, patriarchal family structure and the alienation of human relations.The interrogative tone of the opening line ‘First, are you our sort of person’ continues throughout the poem, establishing the confrontational ‘business-like’ style of a market-place barter, where the ‘object’ to be sold

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is the woman offered in marriage. The imagery of dehumanization opens the poem, describing people as dismembered body pieces that aren’t even flesh “a glass eye, false teeth or a crutch…rubber breasts or a rubber crotch” In this imagery, Plath is able to subvert the image of women as objects, portraying them as overtly artificial whilst also disassembling the voiceless female.The use of the repeated rhetorical question ‘Will you marry it? ’ draws the reader in, establishing the role of the reader as ‘potential applicants’, reinforced by the use of ‘you’ throughout the text. By constantly dehumanizing the silent woman through the use of ‘it’, Plath is able to highlight the oppression of women in a ‘comfortable concentration camp’ that was physically luxurious, mentally oppressive and impoverished.

Where the man’s identity emerges from his suit ‘Black and stiff, but not a bad fit’ which acts as a metaphor for the role he plays in a bureaucratic society. Utterly dependent on her marriage for her identity, she will ‘dissolve of sorrow’ at her husband’s death, a metaphor which again highlights that the woman’s life revolves around that of the man. ‘We make new stock from the salt’ highlights the unending cycle in which Plath felt trapped, the traditional expectations of womanhood in which she felt reluctantly obliged to partake in.Where ‘The Applicant’ is an example of Plath’s use of poetic language to subvert womanhood, ‘Morning Song’ highlights Plath’s dissention with the role of motherhood. Plath conflates a decidedly female gendered space with one in the public world, a museum, highlighting that this experience does not take place within the fixed borders of gender marked worlds.

The poem

depicts the process of separation from a child beginning at birth and ‘the concomitant process of bonding’ where the mother struggles to maintain her individuality whilst her physical bodily boundaries have been crossed.The pun on morning/mourning cannot be ignored in the title of this poem, thus establishing the central concern of the text. The poem opens with the mechanical metaphor of love as a clock that can be ‘set…going’. The ‘fat gold watch’ is reminiscent of the capitalist context in which the poem was written and the mechanical nature of conception can be interpreted as undermining the concept of love as a spontaneous experience.Plath subverts motherhood and the idea that it is a natural instinct of women by alienating her persona from that of the child through depiction of the infant as an inanimate object, a ‘new statue In a drafty museum’ The ‘drafty museum’ connotes coldness and detachment, whilst ‘We stand around blankly as walls’ both emphasises the distance between the parents and the child, whilst also portraying their helplessness in this strange new environment.

The insistent denial of motherhood ‘I’m no more your mother’ can be seen as a shocking attempt to deny maternal responsibility, again showcasing Plath’s subversion of motherhood and highlights the contradiction with the idea of instinctual motherly love. In both poems, Plath uses various types of poetic language to subvert stereotypical images of womanhood and motherhood.There is an ultimate concern with domesticity as she explores the conflict between societal expectations of women and her own wants. As a perverse daughter, spiteful wife, resentful mother, bitch and martyr, she found herself unbearable and her ambivalence towards men, marriage and motherhood explain

the anguish and despair that is so evident in her poetry.

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