Biography of Sylvia Plath – Composition Research Paper

Biography of Sylvia Plath – Composition Research Paper
Introduction – The first time I came into contact with Sylvia Plath’s poem was in an English poetry class. I was deeply impressed by her poem, “Mirror” and I heard the instructor saying that Sylvia Plath ended her life by killing herself. This piece of news aroused my interest in Sylvia Plath ,and pushed me to get to know more about her. The more I get to know Sylvia Plath, the

more I get to like her and feel sorry for her. After I read some of her poems, and her biography, I discover
that she was a very brilliant and talented person. Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1982, nearly twenty years after her death on Februrary 11,1963. This was a rare event: the Pulitzer is almost never given posthumously1. Her death was a great loss to the readers as well as to her children who had to spend a long time dealing with the pains and getting over. As a mother, wife, writer, and person experienced with marital breakup and depression, Sylvia had mental breakdowns for
several times. Her husband’s infidelity especially triggered her depression to kill herself.
However, the depression that was endemic in her father’s family also troubled her during her junior year. She was given bi-polar electroconvulsive shock treatments as an out-patient. In August 1953, she attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. According to the above-mentioned information, the reasons that led Sylvia Plath to commit suicide are complicated, and I would try to discuss them as carefully as I can.

Life Stages

Sylvia Plath’s life can be divided into several stages and at each stage there are some potential influence which might trigger her depression and breakdown later in her life. There are four main stages in her life: childhood, adolescence, college life, and marriage.


Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on 27 October, 1932; the older child of Otto and Aurelia Schoeber Plath. Her father was professor of German and a specialist on bees at Boston University; her mother, a high school teacher. Both of her parents valued learning, and this paved the way for Sylvia’s success and talents in literature. When she was eight, her German father, a professor at Boston University, died of diabetes. Otto Plath’s death brought up great influence to Sylvia, especially for Aurelia showing little grief herself about Otto Plath’s death. “Aurelia decided that Otto’s appearance was so forbidding that she did not let her children see him. Much later, Sylvia showed great anger toward Aurelia, accusing her of having no grief at Otto’s death. There is, in fact, some suggestion that Sylvia was disoriented enough by her father’s death, or the circumstances surround it, that she wished to die herself—or so she later told friends.”1 Losing Otto, then, made Sylvia grow increasingly dependent on her mother, and Sylvia’s sense of insecurity was shown in one event: She came home from school on the day she learned of Otto’s death, she brought a note for Aurelia to sign. It promised that her mother would never remarry. This also revealed that Sylvia expected events to revolve around her, and always central in the life of her family. This may potentially lead her to accept things that didn’t go the way she expected with great difficulties later in her marriage.


During Sylvia Plath’s teen, she had performed quite well at school, and she was stepping toward maturity. But she would often revert to the fears that had surfaced after her father’s death. Near the end of her junior high years, her mother was offered the position of Dean of Women at Northeastern University in Boston. This was undoubtedly a good opportunity for Mrs. Plath to ues her remarkable talents in dealing with people as well as for an increase in prestige and money. However, when Mrs. Plath talking with her children about the change, Sylvia responded angrily, ”For your self-aggrandisement you would make us complete orphans!”1 Aurelia declined the job offer. The sense of dependence and the narcissism that were to mark, and sometimes ruin, Sylvia’s relationships in the future clearly originated in her childhood fear of abandonment. That dear would surface unexpectedly—and always detrimentally—in the years ahead. From this event, Sylvia showed great anger about the job offer of Mrs. Plath, and the accusation that Sylvia filed to defense against was Mrs. Plath’s decision would make them orphans. A fierce announcement like this deeply resulted from the insecurity and fear of Sylvia Plath. She was afraid of or hated the fact that she would probably be left behind, and experience the pains of loss. This kind of fear was doomed to trap herself in the future.

College Life

Sylvia Plath was active in writing during her college life, and worked very hard on her works. Her suicide attempt happened n Sylvia’s junior year, during 1952-1953, was a critical period of time. On 24 August 1953, Plath left a note saying, “Have gone for a long walk. Will be home tomorrow.” 1She took a blanket, a bottle of sleeping pills, a glass of water with her down the stairs to the cellar. There she crept into a two and a half-foot entrance to the crawl space underneath the porch. She began swallowing the pills in gulps of water and fell unconscious for more than two days. Before this suicide attempt, she had been in therapy or having shock treatment, and had been in a very desperate situation, and emotional break down. When Sylvia Plath was fronted with too much pressure to bear, she tended to run away, and refused to believe the reality. Death became her best choice, and she thought it might help her escape from the painful shock treatment. Also, this showed Sylvia Plath’s vulnerability and sensitivity to fears.


Sylvia learns of Ted’s affair with Assia Wevill in July of 1962, and Ted’s infidelity caused tremendous humiliation, anger, and pains to Sylvia. Being betrayed and cheated, Sylvia abandoned herself into despair. The blow was immensely overpowering. Their relationship turned out to be broken and torn into pieces. In this sense, Sylvia and Ted were polar opposites; Ted was flirtatious and adulterous, while Sylvia was blindly faithful. Ted’s only rival was death. Later in the year, Sylvia reveals that she wants a separation from Ted, and later, a divorce. Ted would later on consent to a divorce as well. After searching in London for a suitable flat, Sylvia finds 23 Fitzroy Road, where the poet Yeats once lived. She takes the upstairs maisonette for her and the children. In January of 1963, Sylvia is alone with her two young children at Fitzroy Road, poor, during a furiously cold winter, while Ted was off in Spain cavorting with his mistress. This undoubtedly contributed to Sylvia’s mental anguish, though the exact reason for her death will never be known. It was on the morning of February 11, 1963 that Sylvia ended her life. Her suicide was painstakingly executed. She carefully protected her children by sealing off their room with towels and tape, opening their window, and she left food for them. Sylvia died by carbon monoxide poisoning from her oven.
Twenty century is said to be an age of anxiety, and it seems many writers ended their lives by committing suicides. It may be the matter of value standard which differs from century to century, and how people think about “suicide” Sylvia’s death left her Husband Ted Hughes being criticized by feminist groups, who held Sylvia as a martyr as her fame grew to cult status, blaming him for her death for having abandoned her in despair with two children to care for. Her husband’s infidelity was a leading factor related to Sylvia Plath’s suicide, but if in the view of existentialism, it was Sylvia Plath herself or her severe mental illness led her to self-destruction. Besides, the poor interpersonal relationship of Sylvia when in Devon also added the feeling of isolation and despair to her. With little help, she got stuck in an extremely desperate situation. But Sylvia’s suicide seems incomprehensible, particularly in light of her children. Her mental illness, and severe depression, even when it stems from external life events, is often biochemical. The brain chemistry is awry and therefore what one might call “lack of hope” or “inability to prevail” really does not apply. Some, I believe, really are more fragile in the face of circumstance than others.


Wagner,Linda W. Sylvia Plath :the critical heritage. London :Routledge ,1997.
Alexander, Paul. Rough magic :a biography of Sylvia Plath. New York :Penguin Books ,1991.
Wagner-Martin, Linda. Sylvia Plath :a biography. New York :St. Martin’s Press,c1987.
Axelrod, Steven Gould. Sylvia Plath :the wound and the cure of words. Baltimore :Johns Hopkins University Press,c1990.
Malcolm, Janet. The silent woman :Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes. New York :A.A. Knopf :1994.Distributed by Random House.
Hughes, Ted, and Frances Monson, McCullough. The journals of Sylvia Plath.New York :Dial Press,c1982.
Plath, Sylvia. Collected poems. London ;Faber and Faber,1981.
Plath, Sylvia, and Aurelia Schober, Plath. Letters home :correspondence, 1950-1963. New York :Harper & Row,c1975.
Plath, Sylvia. The bell jar. New York,Bantam[1972] 89[2000]