Throughout time, literature has had a profound effect on every society. Literature is inextricably linked to the values of the society, time and context in which period it was created.
Sylvia Plath’s Daddy and The Applicant is an embodiment of the 1950’s war paradigm. Her confessional style of poetry displays an intensified questioning of life with a strong sense of fatalism. Plath’s poetry subverts traditional conventions, criticising aspects of her society like the portrayal of women, gender ideals and traditional family. Focusing on Daddy and The Applicant, Plath explores these themes through countless techniques.
Sylvia Plath felt entrapped in society’s expectations of a perfect housewife that was drilled into the minds of men. The image of woman is generalized as a large breasted, fertile creature, mainly for the purpose of the male possessor. This image is the epitome of sexism, however at the time was seen as the only way women could behave. It was this stereotype that Plath struggled to reject. Plath’s poem, The Applicant expresses her realistic views on the way women are expected to serve their husband. In the poem, the women is referred to as “she” and once as “sweetie”, but mainly “it”. In calling the women ‘it’, her identity is lost and she is shown merely being an object. Throughout Daddy, Plath uses historical context to help portray how women are treated and exist in society in her time, which was represented as a minority group. In the poem, Daddy, Plath emphasised the central trauma of her life, the loss of her father, which deprived her of a traditional upbringing. She metaphorically described this feeling of oppression as being in a “black shoe”. This colour is symbolic of death and it is also the predominant colours of the ‘swastika’. She uses the simile of “I have lived like a foot” which further extends her feelings of being restricted. The main technique Plath uses in Daddy is the contextual imagery to emphasise on the portrayal of women. The imagery of weapons accentuates the idea of dangerous relations between the speaker and the subject, aligned with war. This is clearly evident in:
“The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare”
She describes her experiences as “chuffing me off like a Jew”. This simile aligns her personal suffering with a global context of the 1950’s. Plath explores the portrayal of women through her poems by using established imagery.
Sylvia Plath’s struggle is extended due to traditional conventions in marriage and motherhood. After the Second World War, there was an attempt to return to traditional values. Plath uses reference to the atrocities of World War II to mirror her own emotional turmoil caused by these societal pressures in The Applicant and Daddy. She explores this theme heavily by inverting the traditional positive portrayal of marriage and motherhood, and instead portraying the exhausting and negative side. In The Applicant, Plath employs a sarcastic tone and a conversational style. The poem consists of many questions, to place the responder in the role of the applicant. The most powerful technique is depersonalisation to convey the submissiveness of the wife, as she is referred as “it”. Plath uses ironic humour to make a statement against the traditional family values society imposes. Plath also uses selective diction to invoke stark emotions within the reader, like “thumb shut”, “naked” and “black and stiff”.
The following quote:
“Naked as paper to start
But in twenty-five years…