Student Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 5-18-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

Honors Designation


Program of Study




First Advisor

Shelly Eversley

Second Advisor

Mary McGlynn

Third Advisor

Corey Mead


This thesis explores, in depth, how the poetry of Sylvia Plath operates as an expression of female discontent in the decade directly preceding the sexual revolution. This analysis incorporates both sociohistorical context and theory introduced in Betty Friedan’s 1963 work The Feminine Mystique. In particular, Plath’s work is put in conversation with Friedan’s notion of the “problem that has no name,” an all-consuming sense of malaise and dissatisfaction that plagued American women in the postwar era. This notion is furthered by close-readings of poems written throughout various stages of Plath’s career (namely “Spinster,” “Two Sisters of Persephone,” “Elm,” “Ariel,” “Daddy,” and “The Applicant”), works that speak to binaries enforced by cultural convention, the dangers of the domestic model, and the inescapability of mid-century femininity. In advancing this argument, biographical readings of Plath’s work will be rejected, bolstering the notion that her work stands alone as culture criticism. Though this thesis certainly incorporates contemporary and modern cultural criticism as well as historical context for the concept of feminine containment and restriction, it is most focused on analyzing Plath’s work as a poet, including assessing her praxis, aesthetic, and narrative choices. This argument concludes in asserting that the six poems considered, as well as the rest of Plath’s oeuvre, directly anticipate second-wave feminism and the women’s rights movements of the sixties.


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