Tulips Essay

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I wrote this essay about the poem Tulips by Sylvia Plath.

Submitted: January 31, 2012

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Submitted: January 31, 2012

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A poem which reflects an aspect of human behaviour is ‘Tulips’ by Sylvia Plath.  The aspect of human behaviour that this poem reveals is depression and it does so through illness.  This essay will discuss how Sylvia Plath’s use of techniques such as; similes, word choice, imagery and tone, help the reader understand depression.

 

‘Tulips’ by Sylvia Plath is a poem about a depressed woman in hospital.  She receives some tulips as a get well gift and rejects them, just as she rejects life.  The poem walks us through her varying emotions to bring about a greater appreciation for depression in the readers.

Throughout the poem, Plath links colours to objects to convey how the narrator is feeling.  The aggressive red tulips interrupt her calm stay in the hospital.

 

“It is winter here.

Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.

I am learning peacefulness”

 

This shows the hospital to be a quite peaceful place where she can relax.  However, she has “two white lids that will not shut”.  This implies that she is pale skinned and is ill or dying.  When we think about white, “as the light lies on these white walls” we think of blank, emptiness.  She feels empty, like nobody cares about her.  She wants to “be utterly empty” as she believes it will bring her freedom, peacefulness and tranquillity.  These symbolic uses of colour help explore the narrator’s desire to be free.  This shows how depression, as an aspect of human nature, is affecting her.

 

Sylvia Plath then goes on to talk about how the red the tulips don’t belong with her.

 

“The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me”

 

The connotations of red are evil, anger and depression but are also warmth and love.  She sees the tulips as a warm, happy bunch of flowers.  This makes her feel angry as she is depressed and wants to be left alone.  The tulips make her feel worse than usual as they are red like the heart and blood – full of life – unlike herself.  Sylvia uses the words “too red” to imply that the narrator is jealous of the tulips.  They are allowed to be happy while she merely slips away.  The redness of the tulips is a contradiction to her white state of emptiness.  The red is the danger of life, and the white is the safeness of death.  This deepens my understanding of depression because the simple gesture of a gift of flowers can have such horrible or scary repercussions.  Living with depression must be really hard if every little thing can make you fell scared, ill, frightened, angry and upset.

 

There is an extended metaphor running through many verses of the poem.  She mentions that the “gulls pass inland” which is the sea gulls flying back to the nests on shore.

 

In this extended metaphor the poet uses the line:

 

 “My body is a pebble”

 

This shows how the narrator is getting worn away.  Just as stones on the beach get smoothed, weathered and worn away by the water flowing so she is getting worn down.  She also mentions her possessions sinking; “I watched my teaset... sink out of sight and the water went over my head”.  The sea is vast, endless and calm.  These are the things she believes death can offer her, not the brash, bold redness of the tulips.  She is using the sea to oppose the tulips.  It is peaceful.  It’s a calm part of her mind where everything is just the way nature intended it to be.

 

All through the poem there are words or phrases that make you see just how depressed she really is.  The most powerful way is through the personification of the tulips.

 

“The tulips are too excitable... their redness talks to my wound”

 

This shows that the narrator must be feeling miserable as an inanimate object is happier than she is.  This shows the pain she feels looking at life, a life than she can’t have, a fun-filled enjoyable life. 

 

“The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.” 

 

The oxygen in the room is the only part of life she has to hold onto.  The tulips steal her oxygen, therefore suffocating her and taking away all remaining life from her.  She mentions that she can “hear them breathe”, this further personifies the tulips and emphasises how she feels as though they are taking the life from her lungs.

 

Her anger starts to rise for the tulips and this shows her depression reaching its climax.

 

“The tulips should be behind bars, like dangerous animals”

 

The tulips are portrayed as a frightening creature – a monster that she cannot escape from.  The narrator is scared of the tulips.  They have invaded her space and won’t leave her alone.  She didn’t want flowers.  She wanted to be empty and alone and to slip away without any fuss.  The flowers jump at her, full of life, the opposite of what she is.  They flaunt life in her face, knowing it is something she will never have again.

 

In conclusion, I believe the poem ‘Tulips’ by Sylvia Plath effectively deals with depression.  It makes the reader feel sympathetic towards the narrator.  It must be horrible to barely live life, to be holding on at the finest edges, scraping through a pain-filled, worthless life.  Death, to this narrator would feel like the answer.  It is her peaceful escape.

 

 



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