Category Archives: New Criticism

How might we interpret Sylvia Plath’s symbolic portrayal of a father figure in ‘Daddy’

Sylvia Plath throughout Daddy employs a range of symbolism in order to create a persona through which to project her feelings, by divulging the most intimate parts of her psyche. Through the use metaphor, the persona may purge herself of the emotions felt by her father’s untimely death. David Lodge asserts that ‘Literary symbolism tends towards a rich plurality, even ambiguity’ the symbol of a father figure is employed to reveal the nature of the persona’s relationship with her father and expand on the reality of her experience. There are many ambiguous images injected throughout the poem as the persona reconstructs her father’s image and reconnects with society.

Firstly, a sense of traumatic childhood experiences are invoked as we witness nostalgic tones and a sense of oppression through the child-like language of the poem. The innocence and childishness of the persona is presented through the peculiar vocabulary the persona uses throughout the poem: such as onomatopoeia in ‘Achoo’ and ‘Chuffing.’The sense of the childhood melds into a suggestion of Jewish persecution and terror as shown through the line: ‘It stuck in a barb wire snare.’ It is through this that the child’s feelings of intimidation become clear as the persona’s imagery frequently alludes to the Holocaust to symbolize the fear and pain she endured during this time. The atrocities of Nazi Germany are used as symbols of the horror of male domination as the Germanic ‘Daddy’ makes himself felt by his authoritarian aura. By accentuating linguistically using the heavy cadences of nursery rhyme such as ‘I could never talk to you,’ the persona is insinuating the innocence of youth torn quickly apart by the images and language of Nazism as the next line reads ‘the tongue stuck in my Jaw.’ By retracing her infantile traumas through the use of symbolism, the persona is conveying to us the yearnings of a young tortured woman trying to escape from the mental abuse and corruption of a dominate father. The persona wants to recreate with immediacy the child’s view by outing a simple perspective reflected through facile language.

Moreover, continuously throughout the poem, phallic imagery in Daddy is implied. First of all, the poem title preference of choice being ‘Daddy’ rather than the more mature expression of ‘Father,’ sets up a direct address from the persona to the character of the father she has created. This gives an ambiguous expression of a child wishing to be dominated. Daddy is a depiction of feminine and masculine energy, where the persona mythologies the figure of her father.In the fifth stanza when the persona states ‘Put your foot, your root’ the foot is a symbol for a threatening, suffocating object, symbolizing that her father is sexually brutal. Thus conveying to us that the persona is powerless to stop his overriding authority as she asserts ‘I could never speak,’ a structural echo linking to the previous stanza where she utters ‘I could never talk to you.’ Unresolved and paradoxical feelings of pain and love about the persona’s parent, Otto Plath, who left her at a young age, are the sole reason she enforced himself on her memory–to perpetuate his image and continue her sexual longings. These lines express the constant and crippling manipulation of the father figure, as he introduces oppression and hopelessness into her life. A father’s authority is intertwined with the abuse of power as it occurs in the real world and the persona’s feelings of abandonment and despair are mirrored with those of Nazi’ as she states ‘I thought every German was you.’As the poem progresses, it is symbolic of the transgressions of the poet’s life as she grows older, the persona moves from desiring her father: ‘I used to pray to recover you’ to fearing him: ‘I have always been scared of you’ to hating him: ‘brute heart’. The gentle nature of the poem title ‘Daddy’ juxtaposed with these violent images shows the persona’s internal struggles with her father’s subconscious, arrogant and dismissive nature. Eventually, the sexual pull and tug of the absent figure from her childhood allows us to grasp that she is sexually obsessed with her father.The suggestion of incest is embellished in the poet’s implication as she allows herself to develop sexually aggressive feelings as she says ‘I made a model of you..And said I do, I do, I do.’

On the other hand, as David Lodge states, symbolism is a ‘nice balance between realistic description and symbolic suggestion.’ As a result, Robert Phillips claims that the persona‘frequently uses elements from her experience as the starting point for imagistic and thematic elaborations.’ The ‘black shoe’ the persona refers to is an example of these imagistic elaborations. The use of the colour ‘black’ connotes death and darkness intertwined with a bind of claustrophobic suffering and suffocation. This kind of ethereal and dark imagery arrives as the poem progresses and the colour palette suggests that the poet has a cage of suppressed emotion. The ‘black shoe’ is a metaphor to express how her life is trapped in sorrow like a foot is trapped in a shoe. However, by also mentioning later in the poem controversial Nazi imagery ‘every woman adores a Fascist,’ it symbolises the persona’s reliance but also fear of her father; the persona is at first desperately seeking a return to the traditional roles of father and daughter. As demonstrated, the ‘foot’ is ultimately a metaphor for the feelings weighing the poet down in all her years of being unable to express her anxieties and communicate with her absent father figure. This view is further highlighted through the line ‘the black telephones off at the root.’ The persona begins to realise the need to reject the traditional roles and her desire for emancipation from her father is the reason for the denouement of the poem: ‘daddy, you bastard, I’m through.’ This line is ambiguous in its interpretation: It is symbolic of the fact that the persona has severed ties and is ‘through’ with ‘daddy.’ Yet, the use of the communicative device of the ‘telephone’ and the repetition of the colour ‘black’ suggests that the persona is actually through to him. So, in substance, although the poet begins to shrivel emotionally by being unable to come to terms with her father’s death, the ‘telephone’ is symbolic of how the persona leaves the imagistic elaborated world she has created and reconnects with reality.

Alternately, one would argue that in Daddy the persona finally castrates the image of her father’s memory and becomes an independent self. It is in ‘Daddy’ that through a metaphorical murder ‘Daddy, daddy you bastard, I’m through,’ she breaks completely free from being a perceived victim and from the power and influence of men. By branding herself as a ‘Jew’ the persona is dramatizing the war in her soul in addition to appreciating as well as accepting her submissive position. This position intensifies her emotional paralysis before the image of an ‘Aryan’ father with whom she is both connected and at enmity. The persona transcends this by ceremonially killing her father: ‘There’s a stake in your fat black heart and the villagers never liked you. They are dancing and stamping on you.’ This killing is not just an individual one, but is part of a ritual joined in by the ‘villagers.’ When the persona drives the ‘stake’ through her father’s heart; she is not only is exorcising the demon of her father’s memory, but metaphorically is killing him also.The process of doing away with ‘Daddy’ in the poem represents the persona’s attempts at psychic expurgation of ‘the model’ of the father she has constructed. The lines serve as a way of describing the ability of her father’s influence to strip the persona of her own sense of consciousness. The poet employs what Freud would call after-effect – she kills her already dead father again in the mental world in order to accept his death and free herself. Therefore, ridding him is a symbol for the empowerment of the persona and the strength she establishes as the poem progresses.

Word Count: 1,531

N.B: I am still alive, I apologize for my lack of posting.
I have always wanted to explore Sylvia Plath, so here you are (whoever you maybe) There is a bibliography/webography so ask if there are any concerns about copyright etc I just didn’t want to bore you with names of texts you will properly never read. Thanks for your time, I will still continue to post, promise.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Literature, Authors, Literature, New Criticism, Poetry, Thoughts

To what extent does the past have upon the future?

I have always been interested in History, and it particularly angers me when people refer to the subject as ‘dry.’ Tell me, what can possibly be dry about History? The foundations of our countries, nations, even the world were founded generations and generations ago by our fathers, our ancestors, and built up from nothing more than ash and dust into solid brick and mortar. Monarchies have been built, empires destroyed, countries and regimes lost and democracy established. Wasn’t it said that we must know the past to understand our future? However, I have been considering for a considerable amount of time now, to what extent does the past directly make an impact on the decisions of the impending future? Of course this question can incorporate a wide variety of responses. If we were to simply ask the question in relation to a wide political and social issue such as The Holocaust or even further back to The Slave Trade, then of course the implications of those fateful days, those haunted years, have made are making an increasing amount of change on issues this current day, and will for years to come. So, in order to engage correctly with this question, you need to inject into yourself a degree of sensibility and almost dumb yourself down and ask it on a superficial note.
You see, dear, dear readers is that when it comes to the past I’ve always preferred to ignore its foreboding presence, I do not wish it to cling on in such a rapacious manner to me like a slave oppressing my constant rioting emotions. But then why am I so dedicated to learning about History, about the foundations on which our glorious, corrupted world was built upon? Graham Swift (hats off to this remarkable novelist) did once state that “often the future we dream of is built upon the dreams of a long imagined past.” In essence I agree with him, but I think a whole part of it comes down to manifesting your misguided fantasies and facing up with blinding reality, to let go of your aspirations, how cruel and cold it may seem. We can hide behind the past, if you so wish it, but Charles R. Swindoll once wrote “We cannot change our past. We can not change the fact that people act in a certain way. We can not change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.” Granted what you decide to do with your time and life is up to you, I often base my decision based upon snippets of prose and monologue I read in a novel and I do wonder to myself if it is credible to allow what some author inked down over 100 years ago to allow my actions to be as ripe today. You can let go of the past, eventually, as long as you make peace with it first only then can L.P Hartley’s famous line “the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there” (taken from The Go Between, absolutely fantastic novel, go and buy it if you haven’t already obtained a copy) come into play. I do not understand people, therefore, who hide from their past, it is only what you do with the time now that you can be judged, what we are never changes but who we are does.
I apologize that this isn’t literary criticism, if you look at who’ve I’ve quoted you could say that I am potentially scrutinizing their works, but I have nothing negative to say in particular regarding the authors that I have mentioned.
So, to close, in general, face up to your past, buy Waterland and The Go-Between and then live a peaceful and ideal existence not getting caught up in your own self-conscious dreams that might not even happen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Literature, New Criticism, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Just why exactly the kite Runner is the worst novel the 21st century has born

Okay, before I start I would like to say this: I do change my mind, it doesn’t even take much persuasion for me too either, I just do, but I guarantee that once I’ve changed it, I stick to my second opinion.
So now that’s off my mind, I can crack on with slating a book, loved by all, or nearly all, but not me.
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseni: I know, I’ve already published a post on this certain novel, except that was an essay I was rapaciously forced to complete in class, otherwise I probably would have refused, but two formal warnings two months into the year is enough to convince me not to challenge the system this one time. But it doesn’t stop me from relieving my pent-up feelings I’ve been told to keep private in lessons.
I don’t how to say this without sounding so frank so instead I’ll demonstrate a lexical set of demonic language: The Kite Runner, is to be blunt, fucking shit.
First of all, Khaled Hosseini is described by my teacher as a ‘genius’ she frequently tells us that ‘he’s a doctor you know, he’s not a novelists, he’s a doctor, just goes to show how good he is!’ To which I roll my eyes and bury my face behind my hardly annotated copy, cursing under my breath as to why we have to study this post modernized book.

I don’t even know where to start, I guess with the unreliable narrator, unreliable plot and unfeasible characters make me so vehement.
First and foremost, I have to credit Hosseini his first novel does give an insight into the vibrancy of Afghan culture before it was ruthlessly penetrated by Russian soldiers. Unfortunately for Hosseini, the only good thing (bar the ending) is the fact that you actually have to be an Afghan to appreciate the book, I don’t care about the streets of Kabul, I don’t care about what the houses looked liked or the shop where you bought naan bread. I care about Amir and Hassan and the redemption of Amir after witnessing his best friend get raped in an alleyway by the future head of the Taliban (it makes me laugh to even type it, what was Hosseini thinking!?)

Hassan is only young when he gets molested by Assef that one winter day, I don’t know how old, I wasn’t that bothered whilst reading and I can’t be bothered to check the plotline it bored me until my eyes bleed a little. However being young (let’s say ten, I like that number) In the alleyway in those fateful moments, Assef gives Hassan a choice..The kite or his..virginity. Oh Hassan, why did you just stand there, why did you keep hold of the kite? Hosseini was trying to create a sacrificial lamb, one comparable to Jesus! He failed in every aspect, no-one is that faithful, that vigilant in their respect and guileless devotion for someone who they’d endure the worst kind of suffering to protect them. Later Hassan even leaves Kabul after admitting to ‘stealing’ the watch that Amir plants under his pillow. Betrayal, rape, ignorance and love is what Hassan endures for Amir, at ten? Bullshit.
Wait, that isn’t the icing on the cake- it’s the sheer ridicule that years into the future, he bears a son to a woman- I know a victim of sexual abuse she can’t even look at a man or engage in physical contact in fear, but to give yourself to someone *cue ghetto voice* Oh hell no! Plus, when Hassan is merclessly shot (I was disappointed at this I expected him to go in a more heroic, tearshedding, attention whoring way) his son is then taken by Assef to be. you guessed it, subjected to horrific violence and abuse.
Plus Assef thrives as a homosexual in an all male dominated society, I’m pretty sure in that culture he wouldv’e been discovered and stoned.
I would continue, say how futile Amirs redemption is, how much I hate him from running, how much I hate Hosseini by spending a whole chapter describing to us a love tale between Amir and Soranya.
I’m sorry I can’t go on, it brings tears to my eyes that I’ve read this ‘novel’, makes me want to bang my head agianst a door until my brian swells to think that it’s still on my bookshelf! But mostly, it makes me sigh that I’ve just spent the past half an hour rapidly typing away when I could’ve been reading some real literature instead of wasting my precious spare time furiously slamming Hosseini, all I have to say is, please for the good of us all stick to your day job. Save lives and spread messages that way, don’t waste a year of my college life on your pathetic stories.
Oh how I am bitter about the standard of modernized books,Twilight, The Kite Runner, just what will the 21st Century throw upon us next? I dread to think, I honestly do.

3 Comments

Filed under Authors, Books, New Criticism, Opinions, Reviews, Thoughts, Uncategorized

The tricky art of defining a ‘tragic hero’

Yet again, somehow or another I’ve been detained from entering any of English classes until further notice due to my portrayal of both Hitler and genocide in a positive light. Now, I understand why this may have happened, I did, yet again open my tremendous and voluminous mouth to give my opinion and then little did I realize the destructive path I’d leave behind.
If none of you have heard of A.C Bradley before, he is worldwide renowned as the ‘Shakespearean tragedy critic’ his works are widely used in colleges and university’s in Britain and across Europe, he is what my teacher described as ‘a beast’ Feeling confident and quite cocky I had the audacity to stand up to one of his teachings, last week and question his unrivaled authority upon the subject matter of ‘tragic heroes’
According to Mr Bradley, to be a tragic ‘hero’ you must exhibit the certain qualities: To have died alone, to have been an architect of your own will, to have once been happy, to have been good at what you did and admirable or striking in a particular way. So whilst the rest of my class deliberate don how Amy Winehouse and other attention seeking whores such as Kerry Katona were ‘heroes’ I set out to prove Bradley’s theory wrong and chose 3 people who were obviously going to be a focal point of controversy: Hitler, Stalin and Bin Laden
Now, if we looked at it in Bradley’s viewpoint, all of these corrupt and evil men tick the criteria needed to be a ‘tragic hero’ (All except Hitler who did not in fact die alone but with Ava Braun)
Now I agree to some extent that I am a stubborn bitch. But, when I have an opinion, a viewpoint, a reckoning and a reasoning I can’t lose sight of my aim, my feelings upon a topic. I’m not condemning Bradley work, he is nothing short of a genius, I’m not leftwing Arthur Miller politically theory either, I just don’t agree with Bradley on his view on what makes a tragic hero.
I’m also not agreeing with Miller and his reasoning that any man has the potential to be a tragic hero, I don’t even know myself what a tragic hero is, all I know is that if my teacher is going to be a bigoted hypocrite and boot me out of her class for my portrayal of Hitler in a somewhat positive light even after I gave my evidence base don one of literary greatest critics, then I have lost faith in all literary teachings and scholars. This is why in English I tend to be conformed to myself only, it’s only myself who listen to myself.

2 Comments

Filed under Authors, Books, New Criticism, Thoughts, Uncategorized

The NEW New Criticism Manifesto

It’s time to move on from the antiquated rituals of criticism of the past. Does this statement itself seem outdated? Does even trying to argue against the now old New Criticism just seem hackneyed and unnecessary? Maybe, if so many professors and critics still didn’t feel jailed behind the bars of New Criticism. And for each restriction placed upon their own research, so too do they place it upon their students, readers, etc. This has got to end, one open forum for free literary thinking at a time. This is a call to arms for all literary readers and critics alike, it is time for something truly new.

I cannot completely discredit New Criticism, for it has shaped and opened doors for all new forms of literary criticism in the past fifty years. But, just as New Criticism has offered new ways to critique literature, it also falls short of it’s ultimate end goal and relies heavily on old, outdated methods, aimed purely at a sophisticated, upper-class reading society. In New Essays on “The Catcher in the Rye,” Emory Elliot states in his preface that prior to the advent of New Criticism, many American novels “had come to be taken for granted by earlier generations as having  an established set of recognized interpretations” (vii). This new form of criticism was created to combat this way of thinking and learning.

New Criticism’s rise in the 1940s and 1950s called attention to the text itself, setting apart history, biography and society. Wimsatt and Beardsley state in “The Intentional Fallacy,” that “the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art” (1015). By categorizing this assumption of authorial intent as “fallacy,” they argue that the author’s intention cannot be known and that people invoke the author’s intention rhetorically to bolster their own arguments — but that this inentionality is not, in fact, “real.”  They then go on to distinguish among three types of evidence: internal, i.e. the text itself, external, which is everything outside the text, i.e. historical context, author’s biography, letters and journals, etc.; and lastly, contextual evidence, by which they mean the author’s other works that could be employed by readers in their attempts to discover the meaning of a literary work.

Well then. That’s pretty fucking limiting, isn’t it? For Wimsatt and Beardsley, internal evidence is the ONLY type of evidence that is to be used to determine the meaning of a piece of literature. Essentially, any meaning that is to be derived from a literary work can be found by doing a close reading of the text itself. Brings me back to 7th grade when it seemed like only the teacher really knew what the text was about, and only by reading closely could we lowly, young students actually even begin to grasp what the hell was going on.

For Wimsatt and Beardsley, focusing solely on the internal evidence of the words on the page prevents an imposition of a meaning that doesn’t really seem to be “in the text.” But this, however, assumes that all who take in a piece of work are aware of and understanding of all the words within the text. This is most definitely not always the case. Take, for example, a piece of work like Ulysses by James Joyce. A beautiful piece of literature with so many layers and depths of meaning the average reader needs a guide to help them along the way. What do we do with a work of literature like this? The first page of Ulysses starts out with a mock-Catholic mass as performed by Buck Mulligan.

Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei (3).

Right at the very start it is easy for someone to get confused and not understand the humor of the action that is taking place. What if you, as a reader, are unaware of common Catholic practices? Likewise, if you don’t understand the Latin language you may not be able to figure out what is happening. What would you make of this passage?  In this case, and in many in literature, the reader will need to rely on some outside information in order to gather what is happening in the text. Therefore, the rule of “close reading,” is moot.

It seems funny to me then, in retrospect, that New Criticism was created against the idea of “recognized interpretations.” According to Emory Elliot, there was a sense among many students that “a canon was [already] established and that the larger thematic and interpretive issues had been decided” (vii).  But with so many professors in the canon holding New Criticism so sacred, I can’t help but ask, has much really changed in modern learning institutions?

What New Criticism says to me, judging by this first rule (one of many I will touch upon in later posts), is that the only people who can determine a “true meaning” of a work of art is an elite, learned, teaching and/or critiquing class. The words on a page and their sub-sequential meanings are only for those of an intellectual higher class to know and possess. The “average” reading public does not matter nor should they have any business trying to create meaning out of a text. New Criticism, in my mind, is a form of literary eugenics. A term I will use to describe all those of higher-learning facilities and the like who feel that they “hold the meaning of a text,” over the typical readers, knowing only the truth from the New Criticism gods who have handed it down to them. Authors are unnecesssary. Only the critics matter, and only if they adhere to New Criticism rules and only if they’ve established themselves as notable and respectable. Students, and even casual readers, should only aspire to be such, else their opinions do not matter, for they are not part of the elite, intellectual reading community who holds all the power.

Does this seem excessive? Dare I even say, radical? Perhaps, but lines need to be drawn and “laws” need to be broken. I ask you, should there be “rules” on thought? Rules imposed upon opinions? Should we, as a reading public, be unable to read a work in the way we choose because some highfalutin, crotchety old critics say we cannot? I think not. And I think now is the time for freedom within the field of literary criticism.

I understand that we cannot merely just step all over those who worked hard to bring us New Critcisim. Their intentions were well. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. It is also unfair to pass any judgments without studying the tenets of New Criticism, its origins and how it broke the mold. However, you  gotta know the rules to break the rules, and that said, after much studying of New Criticism, I think it’s time to smash the state of literary criticism as it stands.

Northrop Frye wrote in his “Anatomy of Criticism,” that in the public must move beyond New Criticism and its isolating habits of the mind, linking it to “art for art’s sake” critical doctrines and the “delicate learning” aimed for the initiated and elite few. That was in 1957. It’s 2011 now. What has changed? Now is the time for liberation of thought and mind.

I should also say that this is not an imposition. It’s an emancipation. A freeing of thought and arguments within literary criticism, but only by choice. Everyone has their own comfort zone. And when one is enjoying literature, each individual should be able to do just that…enjoy it. If you feel safer within the confines of New Criticism, then by all means, follow it. It’s is up to you to choose how you interpret a piece of literature. And if you have opinions that don’t seem to fit the mold, express them. That’s the main basis of this entire blog. A freedom of thought and mind for any and every type of literature read, because, in the end,  literature can and should be enjoyed.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Literary Criticism, Manifestos, New Criticism, New New Criticism, Opinions, Thoughts