Topic: Sylvia Plath Poem Analysis reflective essay


Reflect on the idea that the set poems from Plath’s ‘Ariel’ collection reveal the pressures on, and tensions, within a person’s sense of identity.

Although not a requirement, you may refer to the stimulus material below in constructing your response.

Plath looks to use fragmentation of the self, though the creation of a series of avatars, to slide out from under social expectations of women and their roles in society. This fragmentation can be read as both empowering – a way of challenging patriarchal power – and as illustrative of patriarchal power as women are unable to really engage with a unified self.

Sandra Gilbert – ‘A Fine, White, Flying Myth’ (1978)

Why was Plath unable or unwilling to break free from her cell without a number, why did she consign her “I” over and over again to a jail of shadows? Part of the answer may be that she knew how to represent herself as the soul or reflected image of another, but not know how to do so as an autonomous being with a soul of her own. She could not see herself as a “whole person” but only as a “knot of nerves, without identity,” a “reflection” of male perception, a “wild dispersal,” a “fragmentary welter” (Plath Journals, pp. 17, 108, 257, 307).

Steven Gould Axelrod – The Mirror and the Shadow: Plath’s Poetics of Self-Doubt (1985)

Plath is articulating here a problem which we can now see is fundamental for feminism. How can women assert themselves against social oppression […] Without propelling themselves beyond the bounds of identity, without abolishing identity itself?

Jacqueline Rose – The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (1991)

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