Published: 2021-09-10 22:15:09
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Category: Poetry

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Whereas poetry is often regarded as an escape for poets, it is not immune to suffering transformations under the economic or societal aspects of live, taking into consideration that economic situations influence a society’s ideals and values, and at the same time they influence the author’s life.
We see the text in relation to the economic conditions of the time. Karl Marx in 19th century distinguished between life and society – he mentioned the ‘base infrastructure’ as the economical part – the technological change, the innovation, the means of productions and the relations of production. He also talks about the ‘superstructure’ which englobes politics, law, theology, literature, entertainment. His conclusion of this was that the base influences everything in life.
If we think of the poem as a whole, in relation to its economic and social background, then we get this question of whether the poem is in some ways escapist, or if it engages with the time period. Does she want to escape society, or herself? Or is she still engaging with what is happening at the time in America? This question appears there because Sylvia Plath takes a journey that makes her create a tension between history and economics or social concerns.
Before the poem was written, America had gone through the World War II and the Great Depression. Around the 1950s, the middles class had enjoyed the economic boom and prosperity. Many that had grown through the Depression-era were now joining the workforce. The government had started offering funding for veterans to attend college, for a better paying job. With the opportunities of education and jobs, many had the ability to own their goods and buy services for their comfort.
With the references to the American history in the poem, America’s Indian wars (‘Little pilgrim, / The Indian’s axed your scalp.’), American Revolution (‘Redcoats’ alluding to the British Army), the Cuban Missile Crisis (‘Whose side are they on?’), the American extremist right wing (‘Ku Klux Klan’), Communist Russia (‘Babushka’), it can be easy to assume that the poem is engaging with the current political and social affairs of the nation. But a closer look to the way her own personal economic background has affected her can shift the meaning of the poem to a more personal one.
Society tends to emphasize the principle of utility. Everything has to be useful, and everyone has to make their selves useful to work, to be measured in terms of money. In doing so, society causes depression, misunderstanding and loneliness. These are things that have greatly affected Plath. A sharp contrast exists between the imagination which allows her the freedom of expression and the kind of larger social reality which makes her lonely.
The poet is outside of the realm of utility, is in the realm of imagination that gives her room for her emotions. It forms a different reality that offers her detachment. She escapes reality, she sets up an imaginary world. In doing so, she creates the privatization of imagination, taking the imagination out of the public sphere and making it her personal, subjective enjoyment. In doing so, the utility is gone out of poetry with no effect on society.
Karl Marx also talks about the concept of alienation. As workers we often become alienated from who we truly are. This is a slightly romantic view of alienation. We turn ourselves into machines and alienate ourselves from nature. Modern capitalism has estranged us from who we actually are. Nature is a way to recapture who we are, but Marx says it is not enough, it does not deal with the root of the issue, which is assigning a monetary value to an individual’s time and work. The woman is Sylvia Plat’s poem alienates herself from the issue – she attaches all these other imageries over the initial act, that she ends up changing her feelings towards the initial issue based on what image she prescribes to it. It is ‘a thrill’, ‘a celebration’, a ‘stain on your / Gauze’, ‘thumb stump’.
Marxs speaks about the fetishism of commodities – an obsession or adoration of something, treating commodities as beings. We also do this in terms of value, we ascribe values to things that are completely artificial, but we treat this phenomenon as natural. There is an arbitrary value assigned to things. The poem wants to go away from economic value. Since the poet personifies her finger, she uses images of people (‘redcoats’, ‘sbaoteur’, ‘kamikaze man’, ‘trepanned veteran’) we could say she treats the finger as a kind of commodity. Veterans and fighters and what have helped the nation and the society. The cut inflicted on her finger is something that helps her.
The poet is the one that assigns the value and creates the market for herself. And then pays with these emotions that she finds from the cut. So this is a market where nobody else can buy because it’s a purely subjective, selfish thing, and she herself controls the entire workings of the economy.
Is it a selfish poem? By making the experience so private, so subjective, she’s being capitalist in a sense. She is saying ‘This is my personal subjective experience, I have worked for this. This is the product of my labour and I get this wealth from it again and again. Because as soon as I have these memories, it all comes back’. Simpson’s point then is that it’s so difficult to escape the logic of capitalism. You don’t necessarily have to see the poetry as a failing protest against capitalism. The poem is not completely immune from or separate from economic and society, but it engages with it in terms that are quite interesting.

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