Autobiographical Elements in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath
Like other writers, Sylvia Plath was also influenced by many poets but at the same time we find her work different from the common writers. Her literary work deals with psychological problems faced by every individual in the world. Problems discussed by her are common in nature. Although she did not fight with those problems and always found a way to escape from them yet she had presented them in her work. She talks about modern problems. Some of them are; anxiety, isolation, lack of self-realization, hopelessness, lack of communication, insecurity, uncertainty etc. Every poem of Sylvia Plath ends with hopelessness. In fact, death is her favourite theme. She freely uses this theme in her work; either it is poetry or novel. The reason behind it is that she is well aware about life, death and sufferings. She has experienced the worries of life though her life was short. In a very short age she has witnessed the common problems faced by every single women of her era. She has an imaginative power but it does not help her to find a beautiful place; instead it puts her mind in a place where there are problems requiring solution. Through her poems, short stories and novel, she reveals her own personality. She has spent her whole life to discover herself. Undoubtedly, she was the most complex American writer; even her whole work cannot explain her personality. Sylvia, in hidden meanings, tried to review her own mental condition by using artistic qualities.
“About me” is all that Sylvia Plath wanted to explain through her poetry. She expresses her inner-self via literary work. Her spirit may act as rebel for others but for her it is her identity; she has unveiled the same in her work. She put her psychological condition in front of the readers and leaves everything on them. She has succeeded in achieving this goal. “Ariel”, “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” are examples of it. Due to unending autobiographical elements, many critics have called her work “mere confession”.
Sylvia’s work is elucidation of her experiences. She has been haunted by her own shadow. Her work reveals the gloominess of her mind. “Susan Gubar” while commenting on “Dady” says:
“‘Dady’ is a confessional piece written by Plath three months before her death. In this poem Plath puts to rest her harboured animosity and resentment towards her father. These feelings have haunted Plath throughout her life after the death of her father when she was only ten.”
Critics have rightly said that her poetic career is in fact her confession. Many poems spread light on the life of father, whereas others show incidents experienced by her in her life.
To defend Sylvia Plath, Critics have praised the imaginative power of Sylvia Plath. They argue that every writer directly or indirectly discusses autobiographical elements in her poetry; Sylvia Plath is not different from them. Like a true artist, she does not only focus on single side of an issue; rather she tries to demonstrate it from every side. For instance, she talks about male race as the women of that era had faced difficulties because of men’s stubborn sexual attitude towards them. “Susan Gubar” has observed Plath’s work also from this point and commented on it in the following words:-
“Sylvia Plath had issues with the male race in general through her life that becomes apparent through her writing; the ultimate question lies in asking whether she is a victim of circumstances or spokeswoman against male domination.”
However, he does not consider Sylvia as spokeswoman against male domination. He thinks that she was victim of circumstances. She suffered and put every accident of her life in form of words. He writes:-
“Many believe that yes, she was a victim of circumstances because of the particular type of men that she attracted/came in contact with, and of course, the early death of her father.”
It is true that Sylvia talks about social issues. There may be controversy that whether the social problems discussed by the writer in her work are autobiographical or not but it is true that she has raised voice against social issues such as male domination, insecurity for women, double standards of society etc. Some individualistic problems like lack of communication and isolation are also the subject matter of her work. In order to defend Sylvia Plath, “Eillen M. Aird”, while reviewing “Dady” says that:-
“As in ‘Dady’, however, the personal element is subordinate to a much more inclusive dramatic structure, and one answer to those critics who have seen her work as merely confessional is that she used her personal and painful material as a way of entering into and illustrating much wider themes and subjects.”
Nevertheless, he also believes that there are some personal elements in her poetry. So far as the themes are concerned, Sylvia Plath, as a writer, has repeated old themes and recaptured popular traditions. Images in her poetry are sometimes supernatural. It is because; she presents emotions in her poetry. She cannot paint feelings like John Keats but her thinking is exactly similar to him. She presented what lacked in the poetry of John Keats i.e. psychological problems.
The crux of the above discussion is that Sylvia Plath’s poetry is autobiographical but these autobiographical problems are common for every person. Even in modern days, people are experiencing these troubles and trying to get rid of them. An artist imitates a common thing and that is life, which is undefined. Many problems, especially psychological, are general and many of us are victim of them, therefore, it is not totally true that Sylvia’s work is only about herself. Her poetry also deals with social problems to some extent but what she best discusses is the “psychic purgation” of feelings.