Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.


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The Presence of Plath’s Mental Illness in “Edge”

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Sylvia Plath had a constant battle with mental illness from a young age, but persisted though her struggles of bipolar disorder until she took her own life.

 

“It was now February 11, and Sylvia Plath prepared to die. She left food and drink for her children in their room and opened a window. In the hallway, she attached a note with her doctor’s name and number to the baby carriage. She sealed the kitchen as best she could with tape, towels, and cloths. Then she turned on the gas and thrust her head as far as she could into the oven.” -Carl Rollyson- The Boston Globe 

 

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Six days prior to her death she penned the poem “Edge.” She writes,

 

The woman is perfected.

Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,

The Illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,

Her Bare

Feet Seem to be saying;

We have come so far, it is over.

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,

One at each little

Pitcher of milk, now empty.

She had folded

Them back into her body as petals

Of a rose close when the garden

Stuffens and odors bleed

From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,

Staring from her hood to bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.

Her blacks crackle and drag (818).

 

 

Plath writes omnipotently about her death, obviously knowing what she was going to do in a few days.  In the first lines, “Her Body is Perfected/ Her dead/ Body wears the smile of accomplishment.”  The speaker is obviously pleased that they have died. The have died on their own accord, thus bringing a state of bliss- the smile of accomplishment of their face. The poem continues to writes “Her bare/Feet seem to be saying:/ We have come so far, it is over.” The speaker is obviously relieved they no longer have to walk the hard life they were once walking in. Plath continues to writes “The moon had nothing to be sad about./ Staring from her hood of bone./She is used to this sort of thing./ Her blacks crackle and drag” The moon is refering to the speaker- someone who no longer needs to be sad about anything, because now all of their sadness is over.

Being so in tandem with her suicide, one may assume the speaker of this poem is Plath herself, giving her last goodbye to the world in the only way she knew how- though her poetry.


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Hulme and Chopin’s works against motherhood

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One Whale, Singing written by Keri Hulme and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening both depict situations involving mothers who do not want to be mothers.

In One Whale, Singing, Hulme writes,

“Don’t refer to it as a person! It is a canker in me, a parasite. It is nothing to me. I feel it squirm and kick, and sicken at the moment” (856).

Obviously referring to the fetus in her womb, the protagonist is very angry and uneasy about this soon-to-be child.

 

In The Awakening, Chopin writes,

 

“An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul’s summer day” (700).

 

This “oppression” is referring to being the perfect “mother woman” and wife, which Edna feels chains her and her self being.

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Unlike Edna in The Awakening, the protagonist in One Whale, Singing, eventually embraces her motherhood.

“‘I am now alone in the dark,’ she thinks, and the salt water laps round her mouth. ‘How strange, if this is to be the summation of my life.’

In her womb the child kicked. Buoyed by the sea, she feels the movement as something gentle and familiar, dear to her for the first time.

She begins to laugh.

The sea is warm and confiding, and it is a long long way to shore”  (860).

This gente and familiar feeling which she finally feels shows how much the child truly means to her. By identifying with the whale, she helps to realize how important and wonderful the gift in her womb was.

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The A word – Sexton dares to write about Abortion

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Being  a remarkable confessional poet, Anne Sexton is most famous for her works on controversial subjects such as depression, suicidal tendencies, abortion, sexuality, addiction, and the female body.

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“Much of Anne Sexton’s poetry is autobiographical and concentrates on her deeply personal feelings, especially anguish. In particular, many of her poems record her battles with mental illness” (Poetry Foundation).

In Sexton’s poem, “The Abortion” (532).  the speaker begins with the abrupt and painfully accurate line, stating “Somebody who should have been born is gone.”  The bluntly reminds the reader, yes, the person who undergoes this procedure does infant realize exactly what they are doing.

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The voice of the speaker then proceeds to write with imagery, describing a beautiful landscape, with “Blue Mountains, where Pennsylvania humps on endlessly, wearing like a crayoned cat, its green hair.”

Smack dab in the middle of the poem, The speaker writes again, “Somebody who should have born is gone,” almost symbolizing how in the midst of the beautiful and serene moments of life, one will remember what had happened to them- A horrible and constant reminder.

The speaker continues to describe their surroundings, “The grass bristly and stout as chives,” but then goes into the mind of the speaker, “and me wondering when the ground would break/ and me wondering how anything fragle survives,” obviously refering to the fetus that they had aborted, again, another horrible reminder of they pregnancy that they lost.

Within the seventh stanza, the speaker introdudes the character “Rumpelstiltskin,” the fiction character within in a childhood fable. This introduction of the character helps the reader remember, that “Somebody who should have been born is gone,” would eventually have been a child who would have heard stories involving this character. This play on emotions helps strentgthen the  grave impact on the reader.

The last stanza of the poem breaks out of the imagery and speaks to the audience about the abortion. Sexton writes,

“Yes, Woman, such logic will lead

to loss without death. Or say what you meant,

you coward….this baby that I bleed.” (533).

“lead to loss without death” describes the rationale that an abortion leads to loss of a pregnancy, but it does not cause death, because there was never life to take a away. The speaker seems to be condemning them selves, almost yelling, “Or say what you mean,” telling themselves to say what they mean to say, rather than sugar coating it to make themselves feel better. The speaker understands that this action had to be done, by use of the word “logic”, but the anger and harshness leads the reader to believe the remorse of the speaker.

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Sexuality and Selfhood Through Music in The Awakening

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In Kate Chopin‘s controversial and iconic novel, The Awakeningshe touches on many subjects which where appalling to readers in 1899, such as sexuality and selfhood. Mrs. Pontellier, the protagonist of the work, undergoes a tremendous “Awakening”, beginning most prominently with a sensual, powerful and exhilarating experience with music.

“The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier’s spinal column. It was not the first time she has heard an artist at the piano. Perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth” (713).

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“She saw no pictures of solitude, of hope, of longing, or of despair. But the very passions themselves aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily seat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her” (714).

Chopin’s use of words such as “passions,” “aroused,” and “splendid body” transformed Mrs. Pontellier’s musical experience into something much more profound and life changing, rather than just hearing a piece and creating a small anecdote in her mind. By listening to this Madame Reisz at the piano, she tapped into a party of her sexuality, which had been tightly clasped in a metaphorical jar of oppression, locked by her husband and even children.  The constant need to be a “Mother Woman,” completely hinders a woman’s sense of sexuality and selfhood. By abiding to the constant need to be a perfect mother and wife, a woman loses a self of herself and her sexuality. Edna’s musical experience along side Madame Reisz gave light to the green and yellow parrot which had been caged tightly.

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Women in Fiction Breaking Boundaries

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In Virginia Woolf’s piece of iconic literature, “A Room Of One’s Own,” she describes the constant struggle a woman faces in the world of writing fiction.  Woolf speaks fondly of writer, Jane Austen. Much like many female writers of her day, Austin was forced to write in secret. Woolf poses the question to herself,

“Would Pride and Prejudice have been a better novel if Jane Austen had not thought it nessary to hide her manuscript from her visitors?” (49).

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Not only did Austen seamlessly carry on her piece without fail; I believe she used her experience of gender inequality and female expectationsas fuel for her literature.

She wrote “Without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching” (Woolf 49).

Which, so often is not the case. Many individuals feel they have to bulk up their writing to compare to the men around them. Austen did not try to be one of the boys, but rather, she stuck to her true personal identify, which Woolf admires her for.

As Woolf sits down to read, Mary Carmichael’s first novel, Life’s Adventure, she begins to critics her writing, comparing her sentence structure

“Like being out at sea in an open boat” (55).

But Carmichael surprises us all, by introducing her readers to a place where no one had dared to go, a lesbian relationship.

“Chloe liked Olivia,” (56).

Those three simple words held so much controversy, yet so much importance. Carmichael describes the two women working together in a laboratory, and Chloe watching Olivia with longing an admiration, so much compassion andtenderness, how a person acts when they are truly intimately attracted to another. Unfortunately, her thoughts are too often interrupted by the need for her to go home and care for her children, as if it were almost too good to be true. Although Carmichael takes a giant leap towards a positive direction, she takes a few steps backwards by referring back to the domestic sphere, as if they were just playing in the laboratory, and their real work was to be done at home with her husband and children. Must this always be the case? Why is it that women must be mothers first and true human beings, with needs, second?  Although none of us would be here without out mother, why must this always be a scapegoat?  Women need to embrace their choices, as writers, as mothers, as lesbians, as heterosexuals, as painters, as musicians, or as all of the above. We must make our OWN choices, and do everything we love whole-heartedly. We must stop letting the world scare us into making choices, and embrace our gender.

 

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