Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Cut by Sylvia Plath

The poem Cut by Sylvia Plath is about how she cut her finger while cutting onions, presumably by mistake (however with her you never know if it was or was not by accident). A simple cut would hardly provoke much emotion, yet Plath exaggerates it to make it seem more dramatic than necessary. For example, at the end of the poem she calls her cut thumb a "thump stump," a blunt and almost insulting conclusion to the poem. However, from the first and second stanza we know that she did not cut her thumb to a stump, but merely skinned it, cutting a piece that was a "flap like a hat."

In the first line of the poem Plath says "What a thrill-." She may be referring to either the rush of adrenaline she got from the pain, or she is being sarcastic. Considering that cutting your thumb while cutting onions is a very day-to-day event, she is probably sarcastic.

She seems to like giving her damaged thumb personalities. In lines 9-10 she calls it a little pilgrim, "the Indian's axed your scalp," referring to when the white pilgrims were being attacked by Indians and their scalps were removed, much like the way she cut off the tip of her thumb.

In line 12 she says "carpet rolls," referring to the way the blood rolls out of the cut, like unrolling a red carpet. She then goes on to explain how she put pressure on the wound and applied a disinfectant. The words she uses, like "pink fizz" gives the whole thing a sense of glamour with red carpets and fizzy champagne. She even calls it a celebration.

However, she then goes on to say "out of a gap, a million soldiers run, redcoats everyone." Once again she is describing the flow of blood once the disinfectant has been applied. The blood fizzes, and runs like a million redcoat soldiers, drawing connections again with American history. This time she refers to the Revolutionary war, she is asking whose side the soldiers are on, a confusing question since looking at American history the redcoats were British soldiers (of whom yes, some were traitors but most were not).

After that, in lines 22 onwards she becomes more dramatic. She says her thumb is making her feel ill and that she has taken a pill to kill the papery feeling she has now that she cut off a bit of skin that is still attached to her thumb. This of course is ridiculous because the papery feeling is not painful. Even if she was alluding to the fact that the loss of blood has maken her feel thin, she could not have lost that much blood from cutting her finger.

She refers to her thumb as a kamikaze man (she keeps switching the gender of the thumb, calling it both a man and a girl), almost saying that her thumb brought it upon itself. The poem has taken a complete turn here, her thumb/the cut has changed from an innocent victim and a celebration, and she now compares her white, pale skin to the gauze of a member of the Ku Klux Klan. She says her blood is tarnishing the gauze and forming a babushka (Russian for a headscarf tied under the chin). Babuska could also refer to a Matryoska doll, with layers and layers of skin that is being tarnished by the blood.

In the second to last stanza Plath is basically describing how the blood flow is coming to an end, the blood is drying, "confronting its small mill of silence."

In the last stanza we get an echo of the very first two lines. With the same effect as sarcasm in the first stanza, she is now self-condemning. "How you jump-" may either refer to herself when she cut her thumb, jumping back from surprise, or she may be making fun of her thumb. Both make sense, as next she calls her thumb names "Trepanned veteran." Each means something different. Sylvia refers to her thumb as a trepanned veteran who has lost his mind, as if the cut was enough for her thumb to lose its mind. "Dirty girl, Thump stump" refers to herself and is full of self-loathing, finishing the poem that began innocently enough with something painful, short and real.

Themes: sarcasm, filth in blood lines, death, self-loathing.

Comments on style: she avoid a lot of commas towards the end, as if she was frantically saying the lines, really fast, as if she was "freaking out." In the beginning she uses more punctuation, making everything seem more deliberate and thought through.

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