Thursday, August 20, 2009
SYLVIA PLATH IN ‘THE BELL JAR’ AFTER 40 YEARS
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SYLVIA PLATH IN ‘THE BELL JAR’ AFTER 40 YEARS
Most of the biographical Hollywood films as of today were criticized for giving more credit to the private life and ignore the creations of the person. The film “Sylvia” brings this critique back.
Then film created a lot of criticism from different circles, because of the fact that it is not a film about Sylvia Plath’s life, like it supposed to be, but about her suicide attempts and the reasons behind it that are discussed for a long time by literature scholars and psychologists. The beginning of the movie accordingly starts with Plath's second suicide attempt and these lines about the suicide from her most famous poem: “Dying/ Is an art, like everything else./ I do it exceptionally well...”
As understood from the poem, Sylvia Plath didn't attempt to die only once, but three times with the last, successful-one. Like she said on “Lady Lazarus”; “One yar in every ten”. The first attempt was way earlier than she met Ted Hughes. So, only this information could prove that the reason of her suicide is not only him cheating on her and leaving her alone with the children. It is not enough to know the life of Sylvia Plath or any other person, to determine the reason behind the suicide. Because, even if the events of one's life effects the decision to kill oneself, the most important thing is how the person perceives this event, and his/her feelings and thoughts about it. On this clearance, we need to look at her work and how she convey herself in them.
Sylvia Plath attempted her first suicide when she was ten, but even she didn't see it as a serious attempt; because like she tells in “Lady Lazarus”, it was by accident. The real interesting point in this is why she sees an accident as a suicide-attempt, which can show how she perceives some events according to her suicidal psychology. Her second attempt was when she studied at Boston Smith College. Sylvia was then the hard-working, lovely future-writer. She was considered to be happy and creative, but after she got rejected by F.O.Connor that she adored for a creative-writing class, she got depressed. She went to therapy for a while, but despite that, she tried to kill herself with sleeping pills. After more therapy, her first book “The Bell Jar” was published in 1953. the book is about the women crushed under the current system and 'The Bell Jar' becomes an upside-down glass that prisons women. As one can see from this book, Sylvia Plath would be bothered with the roles as “mothers” and “wifes” that was given to all the women in the 50's America and how this perspective could never be altered and women could never be seen as individuals.
Sylvia wanted to be of existence with her writings and her own individuality, not as someone's wife or mother. She wrote of these feelings often in her diaries and reflected in her books and poems. In May 1952, she wrote on her diary: “When they ask me what kind of role do I intend to play, I tell them :'” What do you mean by 'role'? I don't intend to adopt a role when I got married, I want to live my life as a clever and mature person, to grow, to progress, and to learn. Like I always do...” Sylvia would face this discrimination in different times, through her life. Her attempt to exist in a male-dominant world of literature would be the main course of her depression which guided her to her suicide.
We can also see that Sylvia thought about suicide for a long time in a poem of Anne Sexton, her fellow poet and friend, that she wrote after Sylvia killed herself: “Thief -- / how did you crawl into, /crawl down alone /into the death I wanted so badly and for so long, /the death we said we both outgrew, /the one we wore on our skinny breasts, /the one we talked of so often each time...” Sylvia thought of killing herself for a long time, but the final attempt happened three months after Ted Hughes left her. Because the anger and misery she felt after Ted left was too overwhelming to stay inside her. So, she wrote 41 poems in these three months and she finished the book inside her head; 'Ariel'. With the book, another aspect that connected her to this world disappeared. She brought breakfast to her daughters, closed the door with the tape with care so that the gas would not enter to their room, put her head in the oven and killed herself. This is very clear that this was not spontaneous and that she planned this beforehand with care, and that this suicide penetrated all her life. The cheating and staying alone with her little girls is definitely a part of the problem, but the biggest role one can give to this affair is 'the final drop'. Sylvia was an individual and this is why Ted's leaving her wasn't necessary the end of everything. Like Ted wasn't everything in her life...
But when we look at the film, we get the opposite impression and this is why the film is so bad for her and why her daughters criticized the movie so much. The storyline starts with Sylvia meeting Ted and the couple getting married. However Sylvia wrote her most famous book “The Bell Jar” three years before she met Ted, and it became the biggest milestone in her life; these years were the starting point of her writing career and also of her ideas about suicide. Because Sylvia first realized the roles created for her in these years and her stand versus the society was born. We missed all these important aspect of her life in the movie, because, evidently, the real story starts with Ted Hughes.
The whole film continues in this aspect; around Ted Hughes. While the young poet Hughes travels trough the road to be 'Poet Laureate', Sylvia Plath stays as her loyal companion and helper. Maybe it is through that she somehow stays behind her husband for a while, but Sylvia was always an individual, famous or not, and was in a fight to exist as her person (writer/woman). The absence of this fight clears out the mentality behind the movie; “Sylvia Plath is weak and disturbed”. Yet, Sylvia was a fighter for her freedom, even though the only possible result was the death. Her death is the death of a soldier who prefers to die, rather then live in prison, not the last resort of a desperate. The reason that Hollywood finds, on the other hand, is extremely simple: “Women are weak and they cannot exist without a man.”
It is true that America is one of the countries that people can live freely, at least on the paper, but this patriarchal view is still secretly dominant and manifest itself in the Hollywood system. Hollywood creates a certain type of women and can project someone's life sorely on this perspective and tries to prove this point, even with a feminist's life. This is also the reason why Sylvia is often showed in a moment of crisis, either trying to write something but failing or in depression. Ted Hughes is, of course, always there for her... But, one need to keep in mind that her most successful writings such as 'Ariel' and 'The bell Jar' is written without Hughes' presence.
Hollywood's perspective to Sylvia Plath's suicide is pretty evident. The reason that Ted Hughes gives is even simpler then that; not the feeling of being trapped or him cheating; but, the wrong pills that were given to her. Plath's fans', on the other hand, proved him wrong by erasing his last name from her headstone. Ted Hughes himself must not feel good about this excuse, because he wrote “Birthday Letters” 35 years after her death. 88 poems in this books looks at their life together since their first meeting and the preface gives important clues of his real thoughts: “I didn't really see her true-self, even though I spent almost all my time with her in these six years, besides maybe staying for two or three days without her- Maybe, except, in the last three months of her life.” He died short after the publication of this book and this put the book in position of a confession.