Senior Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Thesis (Open Access)

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts in English



Faculty Advisor(s)

Barbara Seidman & Lex Runciman

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


Sylvia Plath’s life and writing has generated endless amounts of controversy since her suicide in 1963. A common tendency among critics is to read her life and writing as parallels to each other, because of this prominent controversy. This reductive reading is problematic for many reasons. In addition to the gender anxieties she writes about at length in her journals, Plath also writes about her lack of experience hindering her writing, and ways to combat her lack of novel topics to write about. Plath wants to use events and aspects of her life to strengthen the stories she writes, instead of simply turning said events into the story as they happened. Plath uses her writing to explore the themes and anxieties that plague her daily life, and though her writing does not offer answers to the inner turmoil that ultimately led to her demise, it demonstrates her burgeoning skill in her ability to craft a narrative, and her desire to make it more than semi-autobiographical fiction.

Beginning this in-depth analysis of Plath’s fiction, I had hoped to discover a way to separate her life from her fiction, and to appreciate the fiction for the work of art she had intended it to be. After an extensive analysis of her fiction, and the unearthing of themes that thread themselves through this fiction, in addition to an already vast knowledge of Plath’s life, I have generated a compromise of sorts for reading Plath’s fiction as separate from her life: rather than using Plath’s writing as an answer to the questions posed by her brief and tumultuous life, I look at the events of her life as tools she used to inform her fiction, to write complexly about the anxieties that plagued her, and give voice to the woman inside of her that wanted to break free from the restrictions imposed on her gender and exist in not only a woman’s world, but a man’s as well.

The first chapter explores at length six of Plath’s short stories, followed by a chapter that explores The Bell Jar. An analysis of these specific stories shows an independent apprenticeship Plath was working through to make her breakthrough in the form of a full-length novel. The stories display themes that she comes back to through her writing, and they show her progression in working through these themes and turning them into an exploration of female anxieties and the existential crises that grow from them.