Psychoanalytically Analyzing The Poetry Of Sylvia Plath

1932 words - 8 pages

The poetry of Sylvia Plath can be interpreted psychoanalytically. Sigmund Freud believed that the majority of all art was a controlled expression of the unconscious. However, this does not mean that the creation of art is effortless; on the contrary it requires a high degree of sophistication. Works of art like dreams have both a manifest content (what is on the surface) and latent content (the true meaning). Both dreams and art use symbolism and metaphor and thus need to be interpreted to understand the latent content. It is important to maintain that analyzing Plaths poetry is not the same as analyzing Plath; her works stand by themselves and create their own fictional world. In the poems Lady Lazarus, Daddy and Electra on Azalea Path the psychoanalytic motifs of sadomasochism, regression and oral fixation, reperesnet the desire to return to the incestuous love object.
A brief introduction to psychoanalysis is necessary before we can begin to interpret Plaths poems. Art is the expression of unconscious infantile desires and the strongest of these desires is the wish to “do away with his father and…to take his mother to wife” (Freud, “Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis 411).This is what Freud called the Oedipal conflict. For women the desire is of course reversed to killing the mother and marrying the father and is called the Electra complex. Children resolve this conflict by identifying with their same sex parent. Loss of a parent can prevent the normal resolution of the Oedipal conflict and result in a fixation or obsession with the lost object (object is the term used to define the internal representations of others). The desire to have the lost object back is also the desire for what Freud called primary narcissism. Primary narcissism is a state that all children are born into; as an infant the child receives all the instant gratification it desires, at this point the child is responding to the desires of the id. As the child grows up society’s rules and restrictions prevent the child from acting the way it wants to act, from being truly free, these rules can also be called the ego. In essence primary narcissism is lack of separation: there is no line between what the child wants and what it can have, there is no line between the conscious and the unconscious, there is no separation between the child and the incestuous love object (mother or father). Thus, when an object is lost the desire to bring it back is also the desire to return to primary narcissism. The only other time we return to the true state of primary narcissism is through death. There are however, ways that can bring the subject and the object closer together, by blurring the separation. These methods include oral fixation, sadomasochism and regression, all of which are motifs in Plath’s poetry. The purpose of all of these mechanisms is to attempt to return to a state of primary narcissism and therefore to reunite with the incestuous love object.
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