Ricocheting Madly In-Between: The Emotional Life of Sylvia Plath

At age 19, Sylvia Plath was a top scholarship student at a prestigious college, a published (for pay) author, and a vibrant, blond beauty with many suitors. Yet, all was not well within her. She writes in her journal, “I have much to live for, yet unaccountably I am sick and sad.”  Rather than talk to someone about it (a friend advised her to see a psychiatrist), she tries some encouraging self-talk, and she is able to temporarily “pick herself up by her bootstraps.”

“I have started on the rise upward after bouncing around a little on rock bottom. I know I am capable of getting good marks: I know I am capable of attracting males. All I need to do is keep my judgment, sense of balance and philosophic sense of humor, and I’ll be fine, no matter what happens.”

Yet, her very next journal entry reveals that the benefits of self-therapy are short-lived. She falls deeper into the pit of despair.

“Now I know what loneliness is, I think. Momentary loneliness, anyway. It comes from a vague core of the self – like a disease of the blood, dispersed throughout the body so that one cannot locate the matrix, the spot of contagion.”

Plath, however, does not let this “disease of the blood” incapacitate her. She continues to write, to go to classes, to go out on dates. But inside, she is dying on the vine.

“God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of parties with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear.”

Plath talks very little about her family in her early journals. One entry, however, does reveal her mother’s concern for her emotional health – a concern not well received by Sylvia.

“My enemies are those who care about me most. First, my mother. Her pitiful wish that I ‘be happy.’ Happy! That is indefinable as far as states of being.”

While the young Plath perceives happiness as unattainable, she does believe behavioral choices contribute to emotional states.

“I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad. Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.”

At 19, however, Plath saw life as very much worth living.

“For all my despair, for all my ideal, for all that – I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much – so very much to learn.”

Tragically, this love of life and desire to learn dissipated over the next decade. At age 30, Sylvia Plath, on the verge of publishing her now-classic novel The Bell Jar, committed suicide.

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