Consciousness in Conflict: An Analysis of the Poetry of Sylvia Plath

Raman, Rathi (1993) Consciousness in Conflict: An Analysis of the Poetry of Sylvia Plath. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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My analysis of the poetry of Sylvia Plath concentrates on the attempts to define the female self within the parameters of discourse through a search for a non- phallic articulable sexuality. Through separate analyses of Plath's four volumes of poetry, The Colossus, Crossing the Water, Winter Trees, and Ariel, I trace the manner in which the female self redeploys the concept of power through various linguistic reversals and textual travesties. While analyzing the four volumes, I notice a progrression from the subservience to the Law of the Father[s] in The Colossus, [Chapter-1, "Becoming Another", Writing and Identity], to a newly formulated, powerful female self in Ariel. This progression is achieved through a steady infiltration of the text by elements of black humour, parody, masquerade and through supple variations of tone. [Chapter-2, Crossing the Rubicon]. All of these textual transgressions challenge the power of the manifest letters of the text and bring to the fore certain subversive elements that can potentially transform the meaning of the text. Plath's poetry projects the female self as capable of occupying an individuated space of power through linguistic dislocations and through an unabashed foregrounding of the female body as generative of an ambiguous sense of potency. [Chapter-3, And then the Body Told Her Story]. In the search for identity, rivals are identified and dismissed through the introduction of the technique of bi-polarity, whereby the Self attains a certain dignity in proportion to the degree to which the rival "Other" stands disgraced. [Chapter-4, The "Other" Side of Writing]. The emergence of the powerful, articulate self in Ariel is counterpointed by the effect of the editor's hand on the body of the text. [Chapter-5, Quenching the Phoenix Fires]. The re-arrangement of Ariel and the disregard for authorial preference diminishes the inherent performance and spectacle of Plath's last poems. It restrains the message of recovery and triumphant release of a distinct female identity that would have surfaced, had Plath's original selection been adhered to. [Chapter-6, Re-covery and Release in Sylvia Plath's "Bee- Poems" or Ariel as it should be.]. In order to validate these claims, I maintain a fairly consistent working relationship with the psychological theories of Jacques Lacan on the nature of language and its relationship with the formation of the self; Julia Kristeva's re-reading of Lacan, with special emphasis on her theory of the semiotic and the abject in connection with "female" selfdom; and Mikhail Balchtin's concept of the carnival and its relevance in the realm of linguistic reversal and reclamation. I do not attempt any chronologic ordering of texts in my analysis. Instead I have sought to follow the perversities and irregularities of Plath's poetic curve. My method of arranging chapters seeks to roughly correspond to the sense of dialogic tension that I have witnessed repeatedly in Plath's poetry - between the self and the Other, language and instinctual drive, the body and the word. Central to the dyadic structure of my project is the chapter on motherhood recapturing the ambivalent relationship that Plath shared with her own Mother and with her children. It is my contention that Plath's poems on pregnancy and childbirth concentrate, more than anything else that she had ever written, on the deliberate foregrounding of the physical body as an articulable medium. By placing this chapter at the centre of my analysis, I trace the emergence of a decisive female self from under the colossal shadow of the patriarch, the Colossus, to the freewheeling flight & fluidity of "the red comet", "God's lioness", Ariel. Editorial interference leaves the Plathian reader with a finale bereft of the intended power of Plath's original version. Unless the reader retrieves the "real" body of the text from beneath the shadow of masculine Law, the text of the body, the narratology of female identity will remain a repressed undertone, consciousness that is in perpetual conflict.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: P D Hobabaum
Keywords: American literature
Date of Award: 1993
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1993-75631
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 19:13
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 19:13

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