Sylvia Plath and existentialism
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AbstractExistentialism places its basic concepts--of being and non-being, of freedom and the courage to accept its burden of choice, of meaninglessness and despair--at the centre of the individual consciousness, for that, in the existentialists' view, is where truth resides. Hence, any artistic expression of such concepts must find its locus in the individual consciousness. Sylvia Plath's writings are located precisely there. In Plath's work, the creative will seems to be split between a will to live and a will to die. Her letters are full of life and light; her poems contain much death and darkness. Yet, between the two poles of existential consciousness--between the self that stands in danger of annihilation in its encounter with nothingness or non-being and the self with a courage that affirms its sense of being in the face of that nothingness--there is the complex network of experiences and responses to such experiences which puts the individual toward one or other of these polarities. Which becomes the greater magnet depends upon the choices an individual makes; a frightening situation since existentialism neither recognizes nor offers any absolutes or certainties. Plath's work reflects this kind of terrifying freedom. Above all, in order to know life, the existentialist must be prepared to accept the finiteness of his own life, and to understand the dying-in-living that goes on unto death itself. Plath's consciousness in this respect moves from an awareness of that nothingness beyond the grave to a sense of the more oppressive nothingness this side of the grave. In her early poems, death is simply that power which compels man to his eternal sleep, but in her later poems death or nothingness presents itself in more subtle form--sometimes as things or statues, sometimes as barrenness or futility, sometimes as an enticing, almost irresistible, peacefulness. Perhaps the most debilitating aspect of this kind of death resides in the knowledge that, every day, life must be wrested anew from the jaws of pain, and routine, and disillusion, and whathaveyou. Still, in the existentialists' view, it is in one's own nothingness that one discovers the essential nature of one's own being. Here, too, one discovers the paradoxes and contradictions of life which require that meaning for existence be created out of the absurdity of the human condition. For the poet as for the existentialist, love and creativity, which involve commitment to the creative process as well as to one's fellow beings, are the fundamental qualities which make such meaning possible. Plath's writings reflect her developing existential consciousness, as well as the deepening conflict between the will to live and the will to die, and that sense of creative commitment. And, despite her self annihilation, the poet's work reveals an unflinching commitment to life.
Bibliography: p. 138-141.
CitationAldred, A. (1983). Sylvia Plath and existentialism (Unpublished master's thesis). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB. doi:10.11575/PRISM/19844
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