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Cut By Sylvia Plath

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"Cut" Sylvia Plath



In terms of content the persona in "Cut" is Sylvia Plath herself. Plath was one of the first American women writers to refuse to conceal her true emotions. In articulating her aggression, hostility and despair in her art, she effectively challenged the traditional literary prioritization of female experience. Plath has experienced much melancholy and depression in her life.


The scenario of the poem starts off in a seemingly domestic scene, perhaps preparing for dinner and develops into this amazing association and blurring of the physical and emotional senses, where a great joy has been found in an 'accident'. Plath dedicates "Cut" to her new au pair (nanny), Susan O'Neill Roe as a "welcome to the family" gesture. It is most likely the au pairs thumb, which has been cut however Plath refers to it as her own thumb as a sign of empathy/psychosis. In the poem, Plath describes the feelings and sensations of deliberate self mutilation and the emotional release it brings. The cutting of the thumb can be viewed in a Freudian manner in which the incident occurred accidentally "on purpose" a parapraxis, having the effect of building up tension.


The context in which the poem is taking place is in England, isolated away from all her family and friends, during the 1950's where Plath was the victim of a male-orientated sexist society and her poetry a choreography of female wounds. Values portrayed through "Cut" are Plath's life of hardships from separation, divorce and as a single mother and poet. Through the remarkable consistent images that all "flow" from her very ordinary "accident" it is evident that this poem showcases a history of bloodshed through war, death, injury and maiming in the Western world and Plath's family history


The story of "Cut" is a rapid succession/conglomeration off sensations and images of violence and bloodshed throught history and its emotional relief. Plath chooses to use an ongoing metaphor of a battle between two armies. She is possibly one soldier who has lost much, while fighting the depression battle. This poem demonstrates Plath's disconnection from humanity as for example she disassociates the thumb as being part of the body. The fact that she relates her cut to onions, with cooking as a household duty displaying her discontent

with her role as a housewife and mother. However, when she cuts herself she is in control, it's her choice and she has the freedom to do it. The story is told through images of war. The reference to the Indian/frontier wars through "little pilgrim, the Indian's axed your scalp" is referring to the historical notion of pilgrims in escaping in fear of religious persecution. Plath's thumb is being associated to being a "little pilgrim". The link to the American War of Independence is through "Redcoats, everyone" meaning that the blood is not a simple liquid but is composed of a million tiny parts, each with an individual and collective purpose, hence the military analogy. This is also done through the reference to "Saboteur" of the French Revolution representing the sabotage of one's own well being and one's physical body, her own undoer as saboteurs often come from within. The link to Kamikaze "Kamikaze man" from World War 2 signifies the recklessness towards herself when "cutting", pointing to the idea that for a moment she is her own killer. The Ku Klux Klan reference from the Civil War "Gauze Ku Klux Klan/Babushka" from the cold war represents the outward act of anger, hatred and bathing against self. This image is significant as historically the white linen was a hood worn by men in the Ku Klux Klan and the Babushka contradictory was a scarf worn by women in Russia. All metaphorical for the stained bandage, showing sins committed. The military references represents both the control one feels when exercising a deliberate act, as well as the feeling of submission to the need to do it as if it were a command which one is powerless to refuse. Like the "trepanned veteran" who is trapped or ensnared, one feels caught and trapped in a battle with oneself, where historically the consequence was the slicing of heads off. Plath is seen as a wounded veteran of "kitchen wars" domestic and social.


Within the poem various issues are explored. This includes self mutilation for the joys of foretasting death. It is these acts that are often as a result of her depression that she shares with the responder. Perhaps Plath is cutting herself to 'feel' something real. The fact that Plath relates her cut to onions, with cooking as a household duty, displays her discontent

with her role. This displays her unsatisfactory position in a male-dominated society. The responder is given an insight into Plath's life of family, pain, suffering and unstable psychological state of mind. As the poem begins as an ordinary physical incident but then moves on to encounter a deeper more psychological and emotional understanding. Presented is a historic record of violence amongst human beings, which takes a clear yet gruesome image and uses it for a metaphor for something we are universally aware of and responsible for.


The overall mood of Plath's "Cut" is grimly humorous where amusing undertones of the piece are set. Many surreal and strange images are used such as of war, violence, bloodshed and psychological behaviour linked to her thumb. The mood is grotesque as the thumb is likened to a male and castration in a Freudian manner that Plath committed this act 'accidentally' on purpose. For example "thumb stump" and "Homonculus" with sounds evoking this. The images are bizarre but all linked to each other, to be associated with a thumb being cut.


Tone is created through the types of dark imagery used such as that of war, violence blood shed and self-mutilation. It is ambiguous where



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