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The Life of Sylvia Plath: A Comparison of the Bell Jar

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Essay title: The Life of Sylvia Plath: A Comparison of the Bell Jar

If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I'm neurotic as hell. I'll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days" (Sylvia Plath from famous poets). Sylvia Plath, a true icon in the literary world, comes from a broken background which serves to further explain the path her life eventually took. While events from the formidable childhood years of Sylvia Plath set her up for struggles during and after college, The Bell Jar and Holocaust poetry continue to provide the basis for understanding Plath the author and intrigue critics to this day.

“I feel like an outcast on a cold star, unable to feel anything but an awful helpless numbness. I look down into the warm, earthy world, into a nest of lovers’ beds, baby cribs, meal tables, all the solid commerce of life in this earth, and feel apart, enclosed in a wall of glass.” (“celebration” 2) This brief look into the mind of Sylvia Plath states more about the depth and despair of her character than one would gather at first glance. Events from the formidable childhood years of Sylvia Plath set her up for struggles during and after college that would stretch to her tragic end.

Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts to Otto and Aurelia Plath. She grew up in Winthrop, Massachusetts where she became fascinated with the ocean. She began to develop a deep relationship with her father here, as well. Otto taught at Boston University. He was a renowned beekeeper, and constantly impressed little Sylvia with his bee handling skills. Tragically, he died in 1940 of diabetes mellitus. His death was very preventable because, at the time, this disease was easily treated and cured. However, Otto had a dominant personality that kept him from taking action regarding his health. (“celebration” 3)

The following year proved trying for the family, since all of them were dealing with the ramifications of Otto’s death. After Sylvia turned to writing as an escape for her emotions, her first Lawler 4

poem was published in 1941 in the Boston Herald. In 1942, Aurelia moved the family to Wellesley, Massachusetts to escape the memories of Otto that haunted them in Winthrop. It was here when Sylvia began to excel in her schoolwork, especially in the areas of English and creative writing. Although she excelled in school, she continued to struggle with conflicting emotions of love, hate, anger and grief over Otto’s death. In fact, these feelings affected Sylvia for the remainder of her life but, despite this, she continued to write and be published throughout high school. Her first national publication appeared in the Christian Science Monitor just after high school graduation. Plath was often rejected by magazines and publishing companies throughout high school, despite her numerous successes. This rejection began her life long struggle with stress leading to illness leading to depression leading back to stress. (McCollough xi)

She entered Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1950. Smith was the largest women’s college in the world at the time. She was able to attend solely based on scholarships-- one from the Wellesley Smith Club and the other from Olivia Higgins Prouty. (Neurotic 4) During this time, Plath wrote on a precise schedule, kept a daily journal and studied with enormous concentration. She also continued to be published throughout the years at Smith. She became preoccupied with the role of herself as a poet and the possibility of her role as a wife and mother. She did not feel that both could be accomplished adequately. She began to make regular appearances in magazines such as Seventeen, Harpers and Christian Science Monitor. In 1952, she won Mademoiselle’s fiction contest.

She frequently dated throughout her years at Smith, with the most serious relationship being with Dick Norton, a neighbor from Wellesley. She reverted back to depression, insomnia and

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thoughts of suicide through this time. This is proven by her journal entry in which she wrote, “To

annihilate the world by annihilation of one’s self is the deluded height of desperate egotism. The simple way out of all the little brick dead ends we scratch our nails against…I want to kill myself, to escape from responsibility, to crawl back into the womb” (Ames 5).

June of 1953, Sylvia was chosen as one of the guest editors for Mademoiselle. Upon completion at Mademoiselle, she returned to Wellesley to discover she was rejected from a

sought-after course at Harvard Summer School. This disappointment led to belief of total failure, as well as loss of concentration to the point of being unable to write. Once again, her insomnia set in. Her mother noticed scars on

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