Why Did Sylvia Plath Commit Suicide?
Perhaps, Sylvia Plath did not know the value of life. She could not learn anything from her first attempt of ending her life in year 1953 though she could not succeed in it; perhaps sleeping pills were not enough to end her life, therefore, in year 1963, she again tried to kill herself again by overdosing sleeping pills but additionally, she placed her head in the oven, with the gas turned on. This time she became successful and people found Plath dead of carbon monoxide poisoning with her head in the oven, having sealed the rooms between her and her sleeping children with tape.
In modern days, though ages are lesser than the ancient times yet thirty years are not enough for someone to feel the life. In case of Sylvia Plath, she had seen life from different angle. Evidence of hopelessness can be found in her poetry due to which it can be adjudged that life of Sylvia Plath was not perfect nor it was good. It cannot also be said that her life was worst but it was not good enough to satisfy her. Nonetheless, the reason behind her suicide is still a mystery. Sometimes, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath’s husband, has been considered her murderer but it not true at all. In last days of her life, reconciliation was being effected between the couple. Moreover, it has been proved that Sylvia’s death was a suicide.
It is much difficult to answer that why did she commit suicide at such an early age? Whether she was fed up by her married life or the age of thirty was enough for her? Was she mentally ill? Was she disturbed by her gender as she always wanted equality for both sexes in her whole life? These questions yet require answers even though biographers tried their best to answer them. Being a novelist, poet and short story writer, Sylvia Plath’s work can be examined and some clues may be found from her work, which can explain the reason behind her suicide.
Critics and students of literature compare Sylvia Plath to John Keats so far as sensitivity in their personalities is concerned. Where there is oversensitivity, there must be melancholy. Depression is the prominent theme of every poem of Sylvia Plath. Readers discover no hope in her poetry nor did she find it in her whole life. After her marriage with Ted Hughes, she was happy but this happiness was not everlasting. Ted separated from her soon after the birth of their second child. If her marriage or Ted Hughes is responsible for her death then why did in year 1953, she attempt suicide. Neither her marriage nor Ted is responsible for the same. A detail study of Sylvia’s poems suggests that she is a disturbing poet. It is also said that she was mentally sick person. She did not consider crowed a company, therefore, isolation is also the subject matter of his poems; she was an isolated soul, who was insecure about everything. Thus, insecurity is also a well-known common theme of her work. She could not find satisfaction from her life.
She had also preferred equality in both the genders in her whole life. She did not like the customs that men were free but women were bound to household activities. Even with Ted, she had discussed these issues, which might be responsible for her divorce. Hence, life was not fair for her. It is not wrong to say that she was a rebel, whose thinking was totally opposite to the masses.
Julia Alvarez said about Sylvia’s death:
“Why. then, did she kill herself? In part, I Suppose, it was “a cry for help” which fatally misfired, But it was also a last desperate attempt to exorcise the death she had summed up in her poems….and this is precisely what the poems did: they bodied forth the death within her. But they also did so in an intensely living and creative way. The more she wrote about death, the stronger and more fertile her imaginative world became and this gave her everything to live for…I suspect that in the end she wanted to have done with the theme once and for all. But the only way she could find was to act out the awful little allegory once over. She had always been a bit of a gambler, used to taking risks. The authority of her poetry was in part due to her brave persistence in following the thread of her inspiration to Minotaur’s lair. And this psychic courage had its parallel in her physical arrogance and carelessness…She gambled for the last time, having worked out the odds were in her favour, but perhaps, in her depression, not much caring whether she won or lost. Her calculations went wrong and she lost…It was a mistake then, and out of it a whole myth has grown. I don’t think she would have found it much to her taste, since it is a myth of the poet as a sacrificial victim, offering herself up for the sake of her art, having been dragged by the Muses to the final altar through every kind of distress. In these terms, the suicide becomes the whole part of the story, the act which validates her poems, gives them their interest and proves her seriousness. So people are drawn to her work in the same spirit as Time magazine featured her at length, not for the poetry, but for the gossipy, extraordinary “human interest”. Yet just as the suicide adds nothing at all to the poetry, so the myth of Sylvia as a passive victim is a total perversion of the woman she was. It misses altogether her liveliness, her intellectual appetite and her wit, her great imaginative resourcefulness and vehemence of feeling, her control. Above all it misses the courage with which she was able to turn disaster into art. The pity is not that there is a myth of Sylvia Plath, but that the myth is not simply that of an enormously gifted poet whose death came carelessly, by mistake, and too soon.
Note: Ironically, Alvarez’s death was also a suicide.
Another biographical element from the life of Plath is that she was physically abused. Before her marriage, she was raped. It also effected on her psyche and compelled her to kill herself. The society, in which the respect of women was rotted, did not leave any other option for her except to commit suicide. Moreover, just saying that Ted Hughes did not kill her is not enough to free him from this charge; somehow, he was also responsible for her death. We know that after meeting Ted Hughes she was blessed with a new life but Ted Hughes affairs again put her mind in the same state of affairs, which she had forgotten many years ago. Every time she was injured by someone, it directly hit her brain and increased her insanity. She did not have the capacity to deal with social problems. Even a small accident could harm her mentality. In other words, she was an escapist, who preferred to flee from problems instead of facing them. Thus, death was an easy and acceptable option for her.
Conclusion of the above discussion is that there were many factors, which took Sylvia towards death but none of them was directly responsible for her suicide. It is Sylvia’s thinking, which is responsible for her death. Her anger and her psyche to see thing differently is the reason behind her suicide. She was against the society, against the people, against its norms. She cried for help as evident from her poems but in vain. Thus, no one else but Plath’s psychological problems are to be blamed for her death.