Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Written in 1957, when most of Plath’s work was still in formal verse, “The Disquieting Muses” is an unnerving explanation of alienation and otherness. The title, as Plath explained, refers to a painting by the artist Georgio de Chirico—a painting of three faceless dressmaker’s dummies with elongated heads who cast eerie shadows in a strange half-light. “The dummies suggest a twentieth century version of other sinister trios of women—the Three Fates, the witches in Macbeth, [Thomas] De Quincey’s sisters of madness,” she commented. The equation suggests that the poet associates women, distortions, inspiration, magic, and poetry.
The poem is written in eight-line stanzas containing roughly four stresses per line and some rhyme, notably rhyme of the fifth and seventh line in each stanza. The poem is addressed to “Mother,” who tried to teach her daughter a limited and accepted art, telling her stories of witches who “always/ Got baked into gingerbread” and praising her piano and ballet exercises. The mother, too, tried to teach her children how to keep irrational forces at bay, chanting at the hurricane winds that threatened to blow in the windows. The power of unreason is too strong, however; the art it engenders too compelling.
Like Plath’s other parent poems, this one blames the parent, at least in part, for the situation of the poet. Mother failed to invite some “illbred aunt” or “unsightly cousin”...
(The entire section is 396 words.)
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