“‘I am not a Tree with My Root in the Soil’: Ecofeminist Revisions of Tree Symbolism in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry”

Irena Ragaišienė

Abstract


Drawing on ecofeminist theories, the paper argues that Sylvia Plath’s poetic vision is often captured by the dialectics between the tree and its roots, a dialectics which encodes the integrative powers of the tree to unite opposites, and which thus embodies a potential for relocation of oppositional dualities that structure Western thought. The argument integrates a critical response to Ted Hughes’s vision of Plath’s poetic foliage, which he presents in terms of a hierarchical comparison to that of established male literary figures. It is claimed that such a phallocentric perspective on a woman poet’s relationship to the poetic tradition is embedded in envisioning woman’s relationship to culture in terms of the nature/culture dualism. Continuing this line of argument, it is highlighted that the lack of empowering models of female literary predecessors cause gender ambivalence in a woman creator, which in turn generates a self-depreciative attitude to the aesthetic value of her art. The analyzed poems reveal the intensity of depleting self-doubt and dependence on the approval on those who judge her art (or the muse). What emerges from Plath’s poetic exploration of the gender meanings of the tree metaphor is that the dialogue with Nature, which occurs within the context of the male-dominant literary tradition, contains an implicit negotiation with dominant discourses, which unavoidably shape woman’s self-identification within the nature/culture dualism, and instigates an effort to re-imagine conventional significations. It is maintained that a re-vision of Plath’s poetic elaborations of the tree and root in light of ecofeminist tenets offers a locus for the relocation of nature/culture hierarchies and a delineation of potentialities for alternative visions.

Keywords


Sylvia Plath; Ted Hughes; 20th-century U.S. poetry; ecofeminism; tree symbolism; psychological integration

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549