TWO VICTIMS OF THE EXPECTATIONS SOCIETY FORCES ON WOMEN: SYLVIA PLATH & A HOUSWIFE NAMED DOT

One of the main characters in my soon-to-be-released novel, The Brothers Silver, is a mentally ill housewife literally beat down by the expectations that others place on her. In creating the character, I used as my models the poet Sylvia Plath and a housewife named Dot.

Years earlier, I wrote a poem that depicted the many ways these two women—one a well-educated, erudite poet and the other a high-school grad—suffered because they didn’t feel they could ever fulfill the roles that society had set for them as women. I have read both their diaries and it’s uncanny how similar they were: the way they lavished those they loved with food and favors, their many competencies and insecurities, their hidden fears and feelings of worthlessness, their ugly words, the demons that haunted them, their suicides. I put these similarities into a poem called “Dot and Sylvia,” which appeared in Mississippi Review in 2003.

DOT AND SYLVIA

Both plunged beads of boiling fudge through frigid water
at the perfect point, without thermometer,
beat egg and air with effortless wrist spins,
created endless games with plastic dinosaurs
and pieces of paper on rainy afternoons,
peeled fruit for all children and adults she loved,
fell to knees in mock anger and pointed index finger
to emphasize a discrepancy in height,
played Stravinsky and Carmen with Leontyne Price,
taught children funny words to the Toreador Song,
listened tenderly as others told their lives,
loved to talk about books she read,
to feel big wet drops fall on her hair and face in an open field,
to close eyes and imagine making love
to the warm flat stone on which she was sunning,
wanted a strong and brilliant male to obliterate her
then hated him for doing so,
spoke often of what others thought of her
of what they thought she thought they thought,
stewed about public snubs that no one else could see,
said nasty things when she couldn’t hold her liquor,
would suddenly turn on others, then seek forgiveness,
requested permission to loathe her mother,
mouthed troubling phrases:
stasis in darkness
the brown arc
the dew that flies
she never loved me
he touched me in that spot,
fluctuated between loving every stranger
and abhorring her own flesh,
savored jolt after jolt of current
piercing her body like a lover gone wild,
stayed in bed by day, paced halls by night,
found it easier to remember
moments of gloom than moments of radiance,
examined several forms of suicide
until selecting one, and here they differed:
Sylvia stuck her head in an oven.
Dot swallowed pills.

Marc Jampole
Published in The Mississippi Review Vol. 31 #1-2 (Spring 2003) & Music from Words (Bellday Books, 2007)

opedge

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

two × 4 =