” is a poem by Sylvia Plath
. She uses harsh words and turgid structure, to make this piece which throbs
with excellence. Plath's sado-masochistic
tendencies present themselves through stark imagery in several of her poems. This one takes the commonplace incident of cutting oneself with a kitchen knife and turns it into a graphic act of self-mutilation
. She finds a "thrill" in the severing of her thumb
. Personally I don’t think it is reasonable to presume the cutting of her thumb was deliberate, rather, she did this by accident whilst cutting vegetables but found herself taking an obscene joy in it, so much that she decided to write a poem about the experience. One reason it is impractical to believe the poem portrays a deliberate act of masochism is that ‘cutters’ usually tend to cut areas where there will be more blood or pain, rather than a missing thumb-tip. The poem is almost childlike in its fascination with the cut. It starts off in a domestic scene, and develops into this amazing association and blurring of the physical and emotional senses where a great joy has been found in an accident.
I do however think that while this poem isn’t directly about self-mutilation, it alludes to it. There is a reference to kamikaze which represents the recklessness towards the self when 'cutting'. There is also a reference to the Ku Klux Klan which represents the outward act of anger, hatred and the loathing against self. The reference to saboteur represents the sabotage of one's own well-being and physical body. There are references to military which represent the control one feels when exercising this deliberate act, as well as the feeling of submission to the need to do it as if it were a command that one is powerless to refuse.
The poem is believed by some to have suicidal undertones but I feel that if it does, it is merely that it is a light-hearted look at the joys of tasting death. The ‘pill to kill’ line is not referring to suicide but on a more shallow level, to a painkiller.
It has been considered that the cutting of the top of the thumb was an allusion to the castration of her father, as in the Freudian castration complex. This was dealt with in the “Wolf Man”, which Plath was familiar with. I feel however that if Plath had meant the thumb to symbolise the father, she would have given more obvious references.
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