"Mushrooms" by Sylvia Plath
1) Who, or what, are the mushrooms? Explain.
2) Identify FOUR poetic techniques used in this text and comment on their effectiveness.
3) How does Plath give the mushrooms personality?
4) Explain IN YOUR OWN WORDS the meaning of the following:
(a) ''Nobody sees us,/ Stops us, betrays us''
(b) ''Our hammers, our rams/ Earless and eyeless,/ Perfectly voiceless,/Widen the crannies''
(c) ''Our foot's in the door.''
5) How does Plath create a sense of impending revolution?
I'll answer a few of the questions here.
1.The mushrooms are people who are kept down, oppressed in some way, the 'perfectly voiceless' ones who are slowly rising up to make their mark on the world. (The type of oppression is not specified, the poem could apply to any group of people who are victimized, or in some way suppressed by society.) The mushroom image is extremely effective in conveying the sense of their quietly gathering strength. Metaphorically speaking, these people, like mushrooms, are growing slowly, silently underfoot, unnoticed by the world at large, but gradually gaining a secure foothold. They do not need much to survive, they subsist on little (water and 'crumbs of shadow'), but there is strength in their great numbers, which cannot fail to effect a revolution in the end.
2.The mushrooms are given personality in the way they address the reader directly, telling their own story. They describe in some detail their struggle to survive, to establish themselves. The tone they adopt is of quiet persistence, all the more effect for appearing muted and understated. Because the poem is given entirely from their perspective, the reader can identify with their struggle. They are normally denied a voice in society, but here they assert themselves.
3.The sense of impending revolution is effectively created by Plath. All through the poem there is a sense of the mushrooms gradually gaining strength. 'Overnight' they have begun to sprout, they then 'take hold', other grains have to 'make room for them, and so on. Their 'fists', though 'soft', have force; they 'insist' on taking their place. The quiet tone of the poem is deceptive. There is no overwhelming impact on the reader, to begin with, but the sense of the mushrooms' hidden strength builds up inexorably. It is a cumulative effect, concluding in the triumphant note of the final verse:
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth
Our foot is in the door.
The mushrooms have already described themselves as the 'meek', whom Christ declared would 'inherit the earth'. The final line drops to a more everyday register: to have one's foot in the door means to finally arrive, to be noticed, to begin to stake one's claim to a higher position in society. This final verse, therefore, is an interesting mix of the religious and the colloquial. Overall, with her memorable image of the mushrooms, Plath evokes a striking picture of the downtrodden slowly gaining a foothold in society.