‘The main tenet of feminist thought is that male ways of perceiving and ordering are ‘inscribed’ into the prevailing ideology of society.’
To what extent is this true of Plath’s poetry?
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air
· Sylvia Plath, Lady Lazarus
In Sylvia Plath’s collection Ariel published posthumously in 1965, two years after her suicide, Daddy and Ariel convey feminist ideas of an oppressive society in which women struggle to stifle patriarchal forces. With the eruption of second wave feminism in the 1960’s focussing on difference, alongside feminist criticism which ‘seeks to analyze and describe the ways in which literature portrays the narrative of male domination,’[footnoteRef:1] the collection Ariel works to explore the place that women hold in society. Critics have suggested multiple interpretations of the controversial poem Daddy, but a common view remains that it expresses a strongly negative view of male oppressors, suggesting that its feminist thought indeed focusses on male ways of perceiving and ordering. Ariel, rich in imagery and constructed of precision and depth, explores both a journey of female liberation and pressure from a patriarchal society to conform. Therefore, it can be said that both poems examine male ways of perceiving and ordering in the ideology of society, but also explore self-liberation and female assertion as an alternative tenet of feminism. [1: "Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism". Purdue OWL.]
Daddy can be argued to be an example of Plath’s poetry in which the above statement is proven true, as it ‘sympathise[s] with the oppression of women.’[footnoteRef:2] This ‘feminist and powerful poem’[footnoteRef:3] subverts stereotypes of a positive relationship between father and daughter, instead portraying women as victims and men as authoritative oppressors. Plath’s use of Holocaust imagery is not only a shocking and notorious symbol that stimulated controversy to surround her poem, it acts as a metaphor for women’s place in society as one of suffering and subjugation, due to male ways of perceiving and ordering ‘inscribed’ into it. Plath, presumably addressing her deceased father, says she ‘thought every German was you’ and details his ‘neat moustache’ and ‘Aryan eye,’ whilst referring to herself as a ‘Jew.’ This depicts a sinister image in which Plath summons the mass of negative connotations concomitant with the Nazis, and attaches them to her father, and, by extension, all men to render them evil, domineering aggressors. This is intensified with her own identification as a Jew. As Jews were stripped of their belongings and identity, Plath perhaps illustrates the loss of identity women experience in a patriarchal society, due to hegemony demanding women’s submission; thus Plath explores ‘the struggles women face in society.’[footnoteRef:4] [2: The AQA Critical Anthology p28] [3: Sylvia Plath as a Feminist Icon: Critical Analysis of Plath’s Poetry] [4: The AQA Critical...