“Because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”
Author: Asya Tuğçe Yaldız
Sylvia Plath, a female poet also known as the poet of death who squeezed her whole life into a bell jar and rolled it to another corner of the galaxy as she mastered the art of death until she succeeded …
Plath, who was born in 1932 in Boston, carried the effects of the notion of death, which she learned firsthand with the passing of her father at a young age, throughout her life and also reflected them on her poetry. Such that, both the suicide attempts that would one day end her life and also the death theme in her poems provided important analyses of Plath’s personality. In her roman a clef titled “The Bell Jar”, which is considered a semi-autobiographical novel, it was possible to find clues from Plath’s own life and her view of death.
After the loss she had to face in her childhood, the father theme also frequently appeared in her poems, so much so that she sometimes used hateful expressions. Her suicide attempts were sometimes thought to stem from the effects of her father’s death on her but it also appeared that Plath could use an aggressive style when dealing with the absence of her father, perhaps holding on to her own demise to escape another death.
While Plath often reflected her processes onto her writings she also made a place for herself in the literary world with a style that exposed her childhood traumas. She published her first poem when she was only eight, after her father’s death at the age of eight. Plath, the daughter of a German father and an American mother, had a highly disciplined student life and completed her education with the scholarships she won. Plath, who had a rather reserved relationship with her father when he was alive, later said that she also had a very challenging relationship process with her mother. Her book “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams,” which we can consider as an expression of the problems she had with his family, was a collection of stories published in various magazines. When she wanted to end her life for the first time during her college years, she emphasized that this sick mood was an outcome of family life.
Ill: Illustrator: Ethem Onur Bilgiç
As a successful female poet with hundreds of poems in her university years, she seemed to have quite a perfect life while her depression dragged her life into a downward spiral. Plath, often described as a brilliant and gifted poet and a genius, worked on social identity productions during in college and showed great interest in gender issues.
She married Ted Hughes, a poet like herself in 1956 but felt like it hindered her work against identities and labels such as wifedom and motherhood. She still brought a child into the world, thinking that it could contribute to her literary career but was unable to find the happiness she sought in her family life either. During their troubled marriage, Plath gave birth to a second child when the couple had a brief period of improvement. She continued to work in the free time left after taking care of her children or in the early hours when they still slept but she was also in a literary competition with her husband. They divorced when Plath discovered that Hughes was having an affair, which led her into a major depression and several attempts at taking her life.
The poet, who expressed that she attempted suicide once every decade, succeeded in her last attempt and died when she was only thirty years old. One morning when the children were asleep, she left milk and cookies for them and a note for her neighbor to call the doctor, perhaps hesitant due to her ironic bond to life. But it was too late when they reached her lifeless body.
The poet who took her own life by putting her head deep into the gas oven influenced the lives of many female writers who came after her into the literary world. As a matter of fact, the death of some female writers caused the phenomenon dubbed the “Sylvia Plath effect” to emerge, claiming that creative people and especially women were more prone to mental illnesses and likely to see a tragic end. The death of Nilgün Marmara, one of the important female poets in Turkish literature, has been associated with Plath for this reason.
But death or suicide is not something that can be associated with only being a woman or a poet. The mental state, evident in psychological analyses, pushed Plath to take her own life and left behind great writing. But, instead of romanticizing the tragic story of Sylvia Plath, we only need to know it to understand her and her works.