Shannon Kalinowska ‘On Chesil Beach’ and Sylvia Plath
By comparing McEwan and Plath’s presentation of female characters how far can it be said that the women, in literature are often shown to conform to contemporary social conventions?
In 1973, Wendy Martin writing in Women’s Studies noted that ‘male writers are permitted to articulate their aggression, however violent or hostile. Women writers are supposed to pretend they are never angry’. Sylvia Plath refuses to honour this concept of feminine[footnoteRef:1] submission and dares to express her negative emotion. Later, in 1990 Betty Friedan, the renowned American feminist stated that: ‘Sylvia Plath’s poems depicting women trapped within a patriarchal culture and struggling against the ‘humiliating roles’ prescribed by their counter parts’. Separated by twenty years the quotation suggests that little changed in the way the female voices was presented in contemporary literature and that Plath after over thirty years still represented the unconventional voices of female dissent. An examination of Plath’s most acclaimed poems will form the basis of the contention that Plath although often socially constrained, wrote outside the conventions of her time. A comparison with the 2002 novel of Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach which also claims to represent the role of the female in the late 1950s and early 1960s[footnoteRef:2] will underpin the argument that women in literature can represent new and controversial ideas. Although, as Martin suggests, with less success than their male counterparts. [1: Feminism didn’t really appear until nineteen-seventy and this was when Plath first became an icon to the feminist movement.] [2: This was the beginning of the Sexual Revolution, also known as the time of Sexual Liberation. It was a social movement that challenged the traditional behaviour related to sexuality and relationships.]
Sylvia Plath was seen as a person who was isolated from conventional society due to challenging the contemporary views of women. Plath was an aspiring and intellectual young woman trying to look like a conventional devoted wife who used her poetry as a lens to be able to attack and express her anger on the way in which women have had their identity shaped by society. In her poem The Applicant Plath conveys her irritability at the ways women were perceived in the patriarchal society. For instance “it” is repeated, this shows that the female is rather an object than a human. Similarly, the repetition of “that” implies that this woman is an object that is up for inspection, and lastly “sweetie” – although these word can be affectionate it can also be seen as demeaning as this is how you could address a child. Plath, being a successful academic was unusual and this was due to their still being limits to women’s education. Linda Wagner-Martin[footnoteRef:3] believes that ‘her writing shows she was angry about double-standard behaviour’ and due to ‘single-minded attention to Ted’s work meant...