Critical Analysis of Fever 103° by Sylvia Plath

Critical Analysis of Fever 103° by Sylvia Plath

Critical Analysis of Fever 103° by Sylvia Plath

Fever 103° is a biographical and spiritual poem of Sylvia Plath written in the last year of her life. She examines the concept of purity in the poem and ends it with her transformation into ascent to heaven beggageless. She talks about heaven and here in this poem, Plath believes that high fever can make a person quite pure.

The Autobiographical Element in Fever 103°

Fever 103° is entirely autobiographical. She describes her events in the poem. The stanza given ahead tells us about her high fever.

“Three days three nights

Lemon water chicken

Water, water makes me ratch.”

Fever 103° is about the virtues of travelling light, “beggageless” to “Paradise”. Perhaps once again, the speaker in Fever 103°, has been bed-ridden for “Three days. Three nights”. Her fever, fiery and high at 103° Fahrenheit, perhaps makes her light-headed and giddy-which in turn makes her rave. In a delirium, the speaker, due to an abnormal condition of the body, characterized by undue rise in temperature, quickening of the pulse and disturbance of various body functions, is in a state of intense nervous excitement. Placed in unusual situation, the speaker, ill, bed-ridden and nervous, begins to look at life and things in an “eccentric”, angled kind of a way, as do elsewhere in Plath’s poetry, for instance, the Solipsist in “Soliloquy of the Solipsist” and the anonymous Mirror in “Mirror”.

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Transition to Holocaust of Hiroshima

Although Fever 103° is a private poem which describes the suffering of Sylvia Plath caused by high fever yet she has the knock of combining it with public and historical issues like the total destruction of Hiroshima by atomic bombs. A critic has rightly observed –

“Soon the vision changes and Sylvia Plath imagines the smoke to be the fires of Hiroshima leaving behind a troll of death. The images of horror that the poet points represent her personal hell. Radiation kills not only the devilish Leopard but also greases the bodies adulterers like Hiroshima ash.”

The Concept of Purity in Fever 103°

The poem begins with the question: Purity?

What does purity mean and throughout the poem the question continues. Even the fear of Hell cannot purify humanity. Hitler who started with the proposition of Aryan purity could not win the World War II. This question has been raised in the poem and the answer is that no race is pure. The following extract correctly evaluates the concept of purity.

The notion of (“Aryan”) racial purity, for instance, has been discredited, in the last fifty years or so. Indeed, in some cases, this view has made way for an occasionally fashionable notion of Extraterritoriality. Hybridity, miscibility and heterogeneity have become buzzwords which question homogeneity and any such notions of cultural, social and racial “purity”, or atonement. Uniqueness, singularity, “cultural” or “national”, “purity” or “integrity have recently made way for alterity, multiplicity, “mixed” types, rather than myths of “pure” origin or presence. “Simplicity” is displaced by “ambivalence,” in fact by multivalence. Just as the frying lamb’s “opacity” makes ambivalent way for Sylvia Plath’s chosen images – moments of the nightmare of Western European and North American history in “Mary’s Song” – the “opacity” and specificity, materialism, the embodiedness of her own life-situation made it impossible for Sylvia Plath to look for quick fixes, Final solutions.

Fever 103° as a Monologue

Fever 103° is a monologue in which the speaker is Sylvia Plath herself. In the first stanza, the passer of the question ‘What is purity?’ is Sylvia Plath. But she reveals her identity only in the fourth stanza by using the objective pronoun me. She satirizes love and makes a digression to “smoke rising from the snuffed candle, which she imagines to be the smokes of Hiroshima, and her thought turn towards most destructive II World War, which purified the sinners and innocents alike.

In the ninth stanza, Sylvia Plath or the imaginary woman addresses her lover as ‘Darling’. This is an address to her lover or husband. She has been in the sick bed for the last three days. This stanza directly refers to Sylvia Plath then in the later stanzas she refers to the feeling of her worthiness by being pure she can go up and reach heaven. Thus, this poem is a beautiful monologue.

Plath’s Use of Mythological Imagery

She has made profuse use of mythological image good for passion and virginity. A critic T. Jha has rightly observe:

“Myths and references from the classical to the contemporary, like Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades, Dante’s devilish leopard, the accidental logic death of Isadora Duncan by scarus, and the modern radiation warfare destroying plant as well as animal life, are all ransacked to find out an answer. But her search yields nothing everything. “Incapable/of licking clean/the aguey tender, the sin, the sin” she has been in bed with her lover, flickering off, on, of on, “but this flame of passion is contrary to the fire of heaven. She then takes recourse to transcendence, to nirvana by renouncing sensuous pleasure, she lives on water alone for three days for the purgation of her sin. These three days bring to mind the three days Christ spent in the underworld before his ultimate transfiguration and ascension to paradise. The speaker, likewise, is exalted from her earlier impure stage of “old whore petticoat” to “a pure acetylene / virgin; she becomes an unblemished beam of angelic light, and her skin becomes “gold beaten” and infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive; beyond the teacher’s kiss and lover’s body.”


Thus the poem Fever 103° represents all the poetic qualities of Sylvia Plath — her confessional, her interesting, experiences as a married and pure woman, her dissatisfaction, her aspiration for rise to heaven and her transdents.

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