Analysis of Medusa by Sylvia Plath
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‘Medusa‘ is a poem with the help of Which Sylvia Plath attacks her own mother. This poem is full of bemonous hatred towards her own mother Aurelia. Throughout her youth Aura was quite helpful to daughter. In reply to her services, Sylvia used to write letter under the title “Letter’s Home”. In these letters Sylvia’s spirit was quit submissible docile, beautiful and affectionate. Aurelia Plath had been following the traditions of the society towards her daughter. She was expecting too much from her sensitive daughter to show traditional courtesy. Highly creative and intellectual Sylvia Plath could not follow the demands of the society, therefore in the poem ‘Medusa’ she is very much critical of her mother’s base of life. On this poem Majumdar says Medusa represents not only the viper wreathed head empowered to turn the beholders into stones, it also represents that sort of jelly fish with tentacles like Medusa’s hair. To emphasize the cold foreboding she wants her readers to feel, or more accurately, wants to get freed of herself, so “Did an escape, I wonder? mothering the good old” Seivy was one thing mothering the better, intellectual Sylvia Plath was not easy job though.
“I didn’t call you at all,
You steamed to me over the sea
Pat and red a placenta
Paralyzing the kicking lovers.”
Theme of the Poem Medusa
This poem “Medusa” is thematically connected with Plath’s mother “Aurelia”. In 1962 just some months before her suicide, Aurelia was very careful about her daughter Sylvia Plath. P. Rajini observes “In the third week of June 1962 when Aurelia Plath visited her daughter, she sensed her marriage was under some strain. Ted Hughes had apparently started seeing another woman and Sylvia was naturally concerned and jealous. Eventually, when he did leave her the experience proved psychologically and emotionally traumatic. Socially it caused her great personal humiliation as rejection by him meant a kind of devaluation and falsification of the ideals she cherished about marriage. But her desertion in a way proved a blessing in disguise. Her whole poetic personality underwent a change for the better. The immediate impact of her separation from Hughes was no doubt acute depression that lasted till the end but at the sometime there was a determined effort to get a hold of herself and carve out a new life as a poet. “I have no desire but to build a new life”. She wrote to her mother.
This poem is about Plath’s dislike for her mother “Aurelia”. Although her mother always cared for her welfare and wealth. Yet she did not care much for her freedom and individuality. Therefore just as Plath condemned her father in Daddy she criticized her mother in Medusa,” P. Rajini has rightly observed “in “Medusa” finding her individuality threatened the speaker comes down heavily on the oppressor this time a female counterpart of the persecuting daddy, When read against the available biographical information we learn that the speaker’s ire is directed against the mother Aurelia Plath. She is the Medusa or Gorgon of the poem smothering her daughter with over-attention and possessive instincts. The reference to the umbilical attachment establishes the association between the two. Though the Atlantic divides the two, the mother is seen as keeping track of the daughter virtually hovering over her and controlling her life. Although far away she seems to be “always there” either with the help of the telephone or cablegram or through her “Stooges/Playing their wild cells in my keel’s shadow.” Aurelia Plath’s tast was truly unenviable. She received desperate letters from her daughter and when she tried to reach out to her, she was rebuked.
“I did not call you
I did not call you at all.”
The Autobiographical Elements in Medusa
This poem Medusa is based on the relationship between Sylvia Plath and her mother Aurelia Plath. Aurelia’s husband was Otto Plath of German nationality. K.R. Majumdar has stressed the life of Otto Plath and Sylvia in the following words: Otto Plath was a German who emigrated to United States while he was sixteen years old and being an enthusiastic and hardworking student, soon came out as an eminent scholar majoring in Classical languages, later rising to be a professor, teaching biology and German at Boston university. Aurelia was a student of the German Class there. Her parents were Austrian immigrants, they got married, eventually, the bridegroom was twenty one years older than she and had a previous marriage from which he sought a divorce ultimately after a separation of thirteen years.
Aurelia was equipping herself all these years to be a successful career woman studying language along with vocational subjects. But her husband wanted her to leave the high school job of a teacher to become a full time homemaker.’ She bowed to his dominant personality and spent all her remaining life as his shadow, and after his death became a hardworking sacrificing mother squeezing out the last drip of energy for the fine upbringing of her children. In the childhood of Sylvia Plath her mother Aurelia had taken too much care in Sylvia Plath’s upbringing. Plath has expressed mother’s anxiety for the daughter’s well being in the novel “The Bell Jar” and in the poem Medusa and the “Disquiting Muses”. The debt to her hardworking mother was really great on her and while trying to repay with super brilliant results and flow of awards, she secretly carried as resentment to her mother. The tension was built up in all through her school days side by side with her deep growing grief for her father which time did not heal but only sustained.
The nature of Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath was an extraordinary girl. Her total devotion was to the things intellectual and poetic. She seemed to be totally friendless in this world. In her poems she repeatedly said that she was sick of the shadow’s society. She did not like lady and their empty talks. She hated men too but her spirit was freighting spirit. A noted critic Keya Majumdar has observed : Hers was a fighting spirit. She wanted to struggle, loved to struggle. Surprisingly when her dark self was immersing gradually in the slush of misgivings and doubts, her hopeful self rushed out to life with gushing enthusiasm, her play-acting is not to be looked out suspiciously. It was the desperate bid an on her past to go on living and creating. She was writing her poems with meticulous effort.
The imagery in Medusa
This poem ‘Medusa’ has mythical signification. Medusa was one of the three Gorgons originally a beautiful woman who offended Athena, so that the goddess changed her hair into hideous serpents and gave to her eyes the power of turning anyone into stone who looked into them. Perseus cut off her head by the help of Athena.
Many images used in the poem are connected with the mythical personality of Medusa. Sylvia Plath is hostile to worldly things which flare up in bon fire and rage and anger which are clear from the following lines of the poem:
I am sick to death of hot salt
Green as eunuchs your wishes
Hiss at my sins
Off, off cely tentacle !
There is nothing between us !”
The above lines show that Sylvia Plath has the skill of blending the myth with the real subject matter. She can unify attributes of mythology and reality in meaningful words. The last line of the above quotation comes from the clenched teeth of determination. This line also shows that Sylvia Plath severs her relationship from the mother but also from the lowless society. The lines also express acute sentiment of Plath. The poem Medusa ends with the same words off. “It is a poem of complete rejection.”
Contemptuous Emotion in the Poem
The poem is full of contempt for Aurelia Plath for Sylvia. Although Sylvia shows that the mother in the poem wants to “Play God”. On this point P. Rajini has observed : The mother’s self-sacrificing attitude is ridiculed in the following contemptuous queries. “Who do you think you are? A Communion Waber? Blubbery Mary?” A point has been reached when the daughter wants a clean break from the mother’s stifling concern for her. If she had lived “like a foot/For thirty years in her father’s black shoe”, the some duration has been spent under maternal tyranny. The speaker cries out for freedom. “I shall take no bite of your body/Bottle in which I live/Ghastly Vatican”. The mother’s self-sacrificing goodness and purity appall the daughter (hence “Ghastly Vatican”). She could do without the mother’s ”wishes” that “Hiss at my sins”. In the last two lines the speaker casts off the parental yoke :
“Off, off cely tentaclc
there is nothing between us.”
Thus this poem describes Aurelia Plath’s over-attention and possessive motives off Sylvia’s mother. The reference to the umbilical attachment shows the association between Sylvia Plath and Aurelia. Though the mother was living in America and Sylvia was residing in England and Atlantic was dividing the two yet the mother is seen and keeping the track of the daughter. She wanted to control her life from America. There were many ways of being in touch with each other. In this poem, the mother is rebuked with the words; I did not call you. I did not call you at all”. The poem is quite similar to Daddy in which Sylvia has condemned her father. Thus Daddy and Medusa are poems of great anger in which the poetess exposes the tyranny of parental love and concern in images of horror. These images strike at the root of parental society.