(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Much of Plath’s earlier work is seen as influenced by or derivative of other writers. In Ariel, however, Plath speaks with her unique voice. Plath’s poetry deals with life and death from her own, female perspective. Her expression is honest and full of raw emotion, which, when combined with her extraordinary poetic talent, makes her work powerful. She tantalizes readers, taking them with her to the edge of death, unsure whether she will simply state what she sees or jump into the abyss.

Plath is often categorized as a confessional poet as she draws on intimate details of her life for subject matter. Many readers find it difficult to read Plath’s poems without her suicide in mind. The experience of the “I” of “Lady Lazarus,” a poem about a thirty-year-old woman who tries to kill herself every ten years, is glaringly personal. The speaker refers to a public, theatrical death that mirrors Plath’s own.

Ariel, however, goes far beyond biography. First of all, it contains monologues by characters who are not necessarily Plath. More important, it presents concerns of mythic proportion. Plath said that her poems originated from events that affected her emotionally, but that she believed in controlling and manipulating those experiences to make them relevant to larger issues, such as the Holocaust or Hiroshima. For example, “Lady Lazarus” is not merely a poem about suicide attempts, nor does the woman simply die and disappear. Rather, she is reborn, emerging like a phoenix from her own ashes. The central theme of the collection is ritualistic death and...

(The entire section is 655 words.)