Summary and Analysis

“The Applicant,” by the American poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), is obviously a satire of some of the conventions of modern life, especially conventions concerning marriage. Yet the poem contains some details that will strike many readers as initially puzzling or at least thought-provoking.

The work opens with direct address from an unidentified speaker to an unidentified “you” (1). Apparently the “you” is applying for something (a job? membership in an organization?). We continue reading the poem partly to determine what, precisely, is going on—what the exact situation is, and who the specific personalities may be. The speaker seems to favor applicants who are, in various ways, handicapped or artificial. The ideal applicant seems to be the kind of person who needs

A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
A brace or a hook,
Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch . . . (3-5)

Line 5 is especially intriguing, since it seems at first to suggest that the speaker is concerned both with women (“breasts”) and with men (“crotch”). Since the gender of the person addressed becomes important later in the poem, this line seems especially significant. Line 8, however, seems to refer to stereotypically “feminine” behavior (“Stop crying”), although by the time we reach line 12, the speaker seems to be addressing a male.

When we reach the third stanza, the speaker seems to be promising the applicant a compliant, complacent wife who will do anything the applicant tells her to do (11-15). Throughout these early stanzas, human beings are treated not as fully human—with independent thoughts, souls, and personalities—but merely as dehumanized things. Indeed, at one point, the prospective wife is even referred to (twice) as an “it” (14-15). In this sense, she is no more independently alive than the stiff black suit (a tuxedo for a marriage?) the applicant is later offered (20-25). It is as...

(The entire section is 669 words.)