Author (Your Name)

Brian Connors, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. English Dept.




For twenty five years, analyses of the link between Sylvia Plath's life and writings have too often focused on selected rebellious incidents and a handful of poems written in the last six months of her llfe. These shallow and often sensational literary autopsies reach seemingly pre-determined conclusions about Plath and usually blame Plath's mother, her husband, and male-dominated 1940s and 1950s America for the vitriolic tone of her writings and for her suicide at age thirty. Unfortunately, oversimplification is the rule in Plath studies. Examinations of Plath are particularly hazardous because such an enormous amount of her work was autobiographical in some way. The danger lies in assuming that every poem or story is taken from her experiences. Her best known works, The Bell Jar, and the Ariel collection of poems, address death and suicide relentlessly. Incorrect assumptions are taken a step further when people assume that Plath's works are about her own morbid, self-destructive obsessions. Some are. But a greater number are not. For some, part of the ghoulish interest in reading Plath comes in tracing the path to suicide. This approach, however, is tired and misleading. A clearer and more accurate picture of Sylvia Plath emerges by examining the perplexing set of relationships between the poet and her family and friends and between the poet and her cultural environment. These relationships shaped the way the poet looked at herself and her world. Crucial facets of Plath's thinking-her sense of social and intellectual inferiority, her views on the roles of men and women, her voracious appetite for achievement and inclusion--were more a result of the poet's own interpretation of the social and cultural messages she processed than is commonly believed. Her own failures and exaggerated perceptions of these failures played a more significant role in her life than did her mistreatment by others. Significantly, Plath's impossibly, perhaps fatally, high goals and standards were the result of her personal relationships and absorption of cultural signals.


Plath, Sylvia -- Criticism and interpretation, Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century, Plath, Sylvia