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Critical appreciation of Sylvia Plath's poem,"The Rival"

Battle of sexes resulting in the disintegration of family life is a prominent theme in the poetry of Sylvia Plath. "The Rival" presents two figures ,husband and wife at war with each other due to the lack of understanding and compromise .It is a poem in which metaphor, subject and tone combine to produce the effect of cold, furious animosity and rivalry between husband and wife.
"The Rival" is composed in free verse and it consists of three stanzas, each having five lines of uneven length, followed by a couplet .The theme of the poem is presented by pure statement with the help of metaphors similes, imagery, irony ,etc all through thee poem, there is an atmosphere of gloom and unhappiness ,and the tone of the speaker who is essentially the wife is full of frustration .

"The Rival" begins with the picture of a cold and barren moon which reflects the husbands  characteristics .The speaker -wife in the poem alleges against her husband saying that he like the moon outwardly appears smiling (generous ,amiable )but inwardly very cold and barren (artificial and indifferent) as the moon is with its borrowed light. According to the wife ,both the husband and the moon are light borrowers. The moon borrows light from the sun and similarly the husband also lacks his own light (virtues)and so he pretends to be virtuous. But he differs from the moon in one respect .The seems to be surprised and shocked at the suffering of making but it is unaffected by and indifferent to the sufferings of others.

The main trait of the husband's character is to make every issue complex ,turning her life into a death -like existence .But he lives in luxuries and enjoyment, and is malicious towards others. He does not even care to die in putting questions which are not answerable. His complaints are baseless. The image of the moon is again brought in the context to highlights  the husbands character .The moon with its borrowed light seems to be proud at night and mocks mankind but in the day time ,because of its invisibility ,it is an object of ridiculous to the people of the world. In the same way the husband abuses his wife his borrowed light (artificial smile, love etc.)but becomes a ridiculous figure when exposed to light.

The speaker (wife)further says that her husband's allegations against her is a regular practice conveyed by mail,but in fact, they are empty, baseless and destructive like carban monoxide. That is why she is always in a tension caused by fear that although he is far away(possibly in Africa)from her,  the very news of him makes her life insecure. As for the language and diction there is no difficulty for the reader to understand the poem .The imagery of the moon. the metaphors such as ."If the moon smiled, she would resemble you"." great light borrowers '."Her -O-mouth grieves at the world "making stone out of everything ,I wake to a mausoleum ",simile(your dissatisfactions.......expansive as carbon monoxide, .etc. have been very effective in presenting the theme. To sum up," The Rival" may be estimated as a successful poem of Sylvia Plath on the basis of its theme, imagery, emotion ,vision ,diction and other technical devices. 


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Unknown said...

But I like Ted Huges poetry.

Tim Kushi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Kushi said...

Mr Unknown: Then just read Hughes' poetry and stop casting Plath in the shadow of that man, where he preferably kept her himself with decisions to restrict the release of countless diary entries as well as materials required for a full, fleshed out biography. Things written about her work don't need randos doing drive by oppression shots anymore (nor ever, really!). Read Hughes' poems, but if you sense the palpable fear of Plath in so many of them, just pretend it was some other woman/figure and be done with it!

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