The Bell Jar

Mental Illness, Creativity and Societal Repression: The Sylvia Plath Syndrome 12th Grade

1963 was a particularly important year for American Confessional Poetry Movement for one of its chief proponents, Sylvia Plath famously committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, sticking her head inside the oven and leaving behind a collection of verse that would later go on to win the Pulitzer Prize. The same year, another Pulitzer prize winner Katherine Anne Porter confessed in an interview I think I’ve only spent about ten percent of my energies on writing..The other ninety percent went to keeping my head above water”, thereby suggesting a link between creativity and mental illness, a phenomenon that psychologist James Kaufman dubbed “The Sylvia Plath Effect”.

But what I intend to explore in my essay is whether Sylvia Plath’s suicide had less to do with her supposed mental instability and more with the social construct of her times, that espoused slyly among other things, the repression of the woman and their conformity to a pre-designed model as per conservative Victorian standards as gleaned from her poetry and other works, along with biographical details.

Plath’s juvenile pre 1956 poetry, establish her as a writer of developing talent, with a fondness for surreal imagery, an adherence to the usual rules of rhyme...

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