Compare and contrast the images used in the poetry of Plath and Alexie.
The poems of both writers are bitter, yet Alexie tempers his with humor and Plath elevates hers with images of crystalline beauty.
Pick one metaphor or image or phrase from one poem of each of the poets and compare them.
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One of my favourite poems by Sherman Alexie is "How to Write the Great American Indian Novel." In this poem, the speaker bitterly challenges stereotypical notions of what it is to be American Indian by talking of the essential ingredients that are automatically associated with American Indian culture. He produces a list of "must haves" for this American Indian novel, such as:
Indian men are horses, smelling wild and gamey. When the Indian man
unbuttons his pants, the white woman should think of topsoil.
There must be one murder, one suicide, one attempted rape.
Alcohol should be consumed. Cars must be driven at high speeds.
Whilst such stereotypes presented in such a stark fashion are rather amusing, the images portray a sense of intense bitterness at the way that American Indians are stereotyped and pigeonholed by society at large.
Compare this to "The Colossus," where Plath struggles to interpret and resolve her relationship with her father. Note the similar ironic humour in her description of her father:
Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle,
Moutpiece of the dead, or of some god or other.
Thirty years now I have labored
To dredge the silt from your throat.
I am none the wiser.
The irony in this stanza lies in the gap between how the father figure perceives himself, as imagined by the speaker, and the reality: instead of being some famous oracle speaking truth and prophecy, a "mouthpiece of the dead," the father's throat has been full of "silt" and his daughter, who lived in close proximity to him, is "none the wiser." She has not been able to glean any prophetic revelations, to say the least.
Both poets in these examples use irony and sharp, biting humour to convey serious messages and themes. With Alexie, this irony is used to challenge narrow, white American perceptions of what it is to be Native American, whereas with Plath this humour is used to give voice to the massive pain and confusion she feels about her relationship with her father.
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