Freudian Repetition and Restoration in Sylvia Plath's Life, Art, and Death
AbstractThis paper analyzes Sylvia Plath's obsession with death as manifested in her life and poetry. Through her overt display of this obsession in many of her critically acclaimed poems, she provides a poignant and compelling case study exemplifying Freud's theory of a death drive which both conflicts and combines with more agreeable, pleasure-seeking life instincts. Because of her writing's aesthetic value and historical importance, her compositions can be seen as an outstanding example of Freud's concept of "sublimation": the conversion of antisocial tendencies into positive cultural contributions. However, Plath herself eventually succumbed tragically to the dark forces which haunted her life and poetry. Plath's multiple suicide attempts testify to her real-life compulsion towards death, while her poetry includes both direct references and numerous thinly-veiled metaphors. Notably, the parallels to Freud's theories are more nuanced than simple self-destructive tendencies sublimated into beautiful art. These sublimations also reveal Freud's concept of "overdetermined" multiple meanings and include abundant examples of identity "transference". She furthermore reaffirms the death drive as something trapped in repetition seeking restoration of a prior undisturbed state. Finally, her poetry explicitly expresses the ambivalent feelings due to such sublimated, overdetermined symbols which unite the contrasting and converging forces of the life and death instincts. Thus, this paper argues that Plath's poetry attests to both general and specific aspects of the psychological conflicts postulated by Freud's theories of co-conspiring antithetical instincts.
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