How to present Sylvia Plath as a feminist?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In certain poems of Sylvia Plath there are suggestions of the oppression of women and of the poet's struggle to find her voice. These poems suggest that Sylvia Path is feminist in her viewpoint.

One such poem is "Mushrooms" in which feminism is suggested in Plath's extended metaphor of mushrooms as representative of an repressed group. The personification of the mushrooms as having toes and noses points to this extended metaphor of women being compared to mushrooms throughout the poem as they begin to "acquire the air" of freedom. And, with their numbers--"So many of us!"--they will soon be no longer oppressed as they will "inherit the earth": 

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air....

So many of us!
So many of us!....

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.

In this poem Plath likens women's emergence to a mushroom's growth, and expansion with women's fight for recognition. As she sees it, there is an inevitable viability and a clear sense of assertion for women.

Another poem that expresses a break from patriarchal suppression is Plath's "Daddy." In this poem, Plath suggests a powerful victim/subject dynamic likened to the Nazi regime, symbolic of her oppressive father, Otto Plath, a German emigré. While this figure of speech is certainly controversial, there can be no doubt about the suggestion of male dominance. Also, by means of disturbing imagery, Plath connotes her subjugation. She is the "foot" of thirty years within the "shoe"; alluding to her father as "Panzer-man," Plath declares that he is less like God than he is like a black swastika through which there in nothing that can pass.  Certainly, her diction is brutal as she refers to her father as a victimizer/vampire from whom she has broken:

The vampire who said he was you   
And drank my blood for a year....
 
There’s a stake in your fat black heart   
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.   
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

 

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