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“Dying is an Art”: Catharsis and the Purifying Making of the Self in Sylvia Plath’s “Fever 103º”, “Lady Lazarus”, and “Ariel” (pp. 149-161)

Celia Cores Antepazo

University of Salamanca


When asked about the possible autobiographical origin of her poems during an interview a year prior to her death, Sylvia Plath answered that they emerged from a kind of non-narcissistic emotional experience purposely manipulated to come as “relevant to the larger things” (Orr 1966, 170). In the decades after Plath’s passing, her poems came to acquire several new, quite narcissistic interpretations that enhanced her status as a poet of death and suicide. As a result, the true nature of her writings was greatly misread and the emphasis on these “larger things” has been since then chiefly obliterated. This note aims at the revalorization of the intensely philosophical depth that her poetry entails, and thus focuses on Plath’s initiatory process of the making of the self in her poems “Fever 103º”, “Lady Lazarus”, and “Ariel”. Following Kroll (1976), Rosenblatt (1979) and Patea’s (1989, 2007) theorizations on Plath’s philosophy of cathartic death and rebirth, the aim of this paper is to analyze such mythic process of initiation in said three poems. Written in 1962 amid a creativity burst, these poems follow a similar structure regarding mythic rebirth, and Plath masterfully evokes in them the self’s emotional experience against a deeply oppressive background. The making of the poetic self in these texts serves Plath to explore her metaphysical concerns on the larger things of life and death. Therefore, this note concludes that, in a progression that is highly influenced by archaic rites of initiation as well as historical, literary, mythological, and biblical texts, the poetic persona faces her enemies and is made anew after purgation as she overcomes the oppressive hindrances caused by earthly life. 

Keywords: death; rebirth; catharsis; Plath; initiation


Celia Cores Antepazo is a first year PhD candidate and a predoctoral FPU fellow at the department of English of the University of Salamanca. In the field of English Literary and Cultural Studies, her research focuses mainly on memory, resilience, gender, and race, and on how all these interact in North American (counter) narratives.

e-mail addresscorescelia@usal.es


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