Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jiwon Lim: "The Applicant"

Sylvia Plath’s The Applicant is a witty poem that seems to catch the reader’s attention by the interrogation method. I can imagine the poem in my head: a man has come in “applying” for a wife, and the speaker of the poem is going through a set list of features he should have. After going through the list, the speaker finally offers him “a living doll (line 33),” which I presume was a woman.

In the first stanza, the speaker asks the applicant about his physical features. The speaker then gives the applicant “a hand.” It is important to notice how Plath portrays the man throughout this poem. The speaker tells the man to “stop crying (line 8).” The man is portrayed as being needy and unworthy of respect. Stanzas three, four and five describe the way men treat their work. The speaker hands the man a suit, claiming “it is waterproof, shatterproof, proof/Against fire and bombs through the roof (lines 23, 24).” This shows how much importance society puts on a job that requires a suit. This makes it seem like ALL men are required to have a job that requires a suit. In stanza six, the speaker prepares to give the man a woman for his empty head. It is interesting to note how the speaker summons the woman. First, the woman is summoned from inside a closet, which notes Plath’s views on women’s importance in society. Next, she notes that “in twenty-five years she’ll be silver,/In fifty, gold.” It is tradition to give a woman silver for the twenty-fifth anniversary and gold for the fiftieth anniversary. Thirdly, the woman is considered to be “a living doll” that can sew, cook, and talk. All of these features are the traditional duties assigned to women. She is expected to be seen, and not heard. The woman is expected to perform her womanly duties as tradition has dictated.

By the end of the poem, it is easy to see that the point Plath is making is clear: women are still viewed as generic domicile housekeepers. There is to be no sense of individuality. The question “Will you marry it?” comes out throughout the entire poem. This constant question takes the view that marriage is a binding contract that is non-negotiable. It’s interesting because the applicant, the man, doesn’t have a say in the matter either. In the end, the question of “Will you marry it?” turns into a statement disguised as a question: “Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.” There is only one choice left, and that is to marry IT (notice the reference to the woman as it, not her).

Overall, this poem explores the institution of marriage and how it is expected that everyone marry. Given the situations in Sylvia Plath’s life, it is easy to see why she wrote this poem the way she did.

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