Victor & the victim
Kanchan Mehta
Black Statements: Sylvia Plath’s Poetry and Fiction
by Shyamsunder Padihari. Prakash Book Depot, Bareilly.
Pages 108. Rs 50.

STRUCTURED like an academic thesis, Black Statements is a holistic study of Sylvia Plath, the most haunting American woman poet. Classified into sections and written in a jargon-free style, the book brings us face to face with a towering genius who dared to articulate her unsavoury emotions in public.

Highlighting equally her life and works, and the socio-cultural milieu she survived in, the book ends up as a biography of the poet. Interspersed with her personal letters, comments and her contemporary scholars’ views on her life and works, the book makes an engaging read, exposing her unique personality.

The book gets its title from the poem Little Fugue, where the poet declares, "I like black statements." The author Shyamsundar Padihari contends, "Black indeed are her statements about life which constitute material for her poetry and fiction. Her themes include humiliation, betrayal, loneliness and death. Thus, the purpose of this book is to analyse Plath’s work as an intimate expression of her fascination with death."

Plath’s childhood fixation for her father is kernel to her personality. Her open confession of her obsessive love for her father proves the validity of Freud’s hypothesis of Oedipus complex. The early death of her father, her first love, when she was barely eight, generated an unbridgeable gulf in her psyche.

Her sado-masochistic emotion for her father surfaces in her poetry and specifically in her most-talked-about poem Daddy. To be united with him, she made unsuccessful suicidal attempts.

At twenty I tried to die

And get back, back back to you!

Poetry brought her closer to Ted Hughes, a renowned poet. Finding him her surrogate father, she loved him intensely and married him at the age of 24. But, unfortunately, her marriage proved a tragic bungle. Hughes’ extra-marital involvement crushed her awfully. She poured out her torment and fury into her later poetry, which she herself calls "the blood jet".

If I have killed one man, I have killed two—

The vampire who said he was you

And drank my blood for a year

Seven years, if you want to know

Pidhari rightly remarks, "Her poetry is quite literally irresistible with its daring, skill, and severity. It shocks and thrills".

But creativity failed to assuage her torn psyche for long. Besides the sense of betrayal, increased responsibilities with diminished resources and biological infirmities drove her to scathing depression. On the fateful day of February 11, 1963, she committed suicide, suffocating from gas.

Plath chose confessional mode of poetry to give vent to her extreme and painful emotions. Padihari is dismayed over the fact that "what draws people to Sylvia Plath today are her repeated attempts to take her life and her ultimate suicide rather than her writing."

The book is a must read for the students of literature and modern intellectual women who suffer from a sort of alienation from society. The slim book, indeed, is a saga of a dauntless woman who "was able to turn disaster into art".