Anne Sexton's "The Civil War" and Sylvia Plath's "In Plaster" speak to the multiple selves and identities that both Sexton and Plath, respectively, and perhaps other women of the atomic age felt...

Anne Sexton's "The Civil War" and Sylvia Plath's "In Plaster" speak to the multiple selves and identities that both Sexton and Plath, respectively, and perhaps other women of the atomic age felt dueling within themselves. What is the difference in the way each poet views their various selves? 

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In both Anne Sexton's "The Civil War" and Sylvia Plath's "In Plaster", the narrators talk about divided selves, with one self offering up a critique of the second self. The tone, themes, and attitudes of the poems, though, are very different, with Plath's being calmer and more contemplative, and Sexton's more violent. 

Sylvia Plath's "In Plaster" addresses a common experience of wearing a plaster cast for a broken bone. Although some of the descriptions of the cast are figurative, and we don't actually find out which bone was broken, there are many realistic details concerning muscle atrophy and the way skin flakes and itches under a cast. The way the narrator views the cast is ambivalent. In one way she resents having to wear it at the beginning of the poem, but she also is grateful for the support it gives. She draws an interesting analogy between the smooth, bland, calm whiteness of the cast and the ideal woman of the 1950s. She understands how the conventions of femininity and rules of social conduct both help her structure her life (as the cast supports her body) but also weaken her and restrict her freedom. 

Sexton's narrator seems angrier that Plath's, resenting the "God within me", and uses violent imagery to address how she will rip the religious values she has assimilated out of her self and reconstruct them. Much of the imagery seems taken from psychoanalysis. While both Sexton and Plath emphasize the need to build new selves, independent of tradition and convention, Plath sees both the good and the bad in the plaster, while Sexton sees her relationship with the God within her in terms of the Civil War, with its sense of violence and conquest.

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