Birthday Letters – Ted Hughes
Representations of people, ideas and events in various texts unveil the ephemeral nature of perspectives shaped by its reception. The subjectivity of human nature ensures that conflicting perspectives arise from such texts as “The Minotaur” and “Red” from Ted Hughes’ anthology Birthday Letters, the film American Beauty directed by Sam Mendes and the short story Christina Rosenthal written by Jeffrey Archer. These deal with the conflict of duality in relationships and the reciprocal personalities that dominate one’s psyche. Through a variety of literary devices, these composers ensure that responders are able to perceive a multitude of perspectives and are able to make up their own minds.
In “The Minotaur”, Hughes represents the ambiguous relationship between Plath and himself. The poem characterizes Plath as a violent sociopath through the imagery of “that high stool you swung that day” characterising her unstable psychosis. Downplaying the reason for her rage, the fact that he was “twenty minutes late”. It portrays “the bloody…skein that unravelled your marriage”, symbolising the dishevelled knots that is their dysfunctional union. The allusive depiction of the father as the “Minotaur” is a metaphor for the ‘horned, bellowing’ existence of her trauma, the ‘Goblin (who) snapped his fingers.” Alluding to the helplessness of Plath against her rage and lunacy. The conflict interpreted by the responders however lies in the juxtaposing prose by Hughes that seems not only to divert Plath’s rage but placate it. The poem seeks to exonerate Hughes from Plath’s death through the accusatory tone and repetition of the personal pronoun “you”. This is further implicated by the verbal irony of “Marvellous!’…That’s the stuff you’re keeping out of your poems!” Suggesting that he is trying to contain Plath and keep her lucid. This is reinforced by the tri-colon juxtaposition of “later, considered and calmer”, portraying his love for Plath and that rather than driving her passions, he is trying to redirect her rage to constructive ends. Thus the love and hate in “The Minotaur” cause responders to question the purpose of Hughes’ treatment of Plath.
The conflict of emotions in Hughes’ “The Minotaur” is echoed in the short story Christina Rosenthal written by Jeffrey Archer. The short story represents the disastrous romance between the Jewish protagonist, Benjamin Rosenthal, and his Orthodox wife, Christina. On their first encounter, Christina derogatorily shouted “Jew boy!” portraying her prejudice against Benjamin. Their hate is reinforced by the rhetoric “I was convinced then that I hated her”. This is later juxtaposed with “come on, Benjamin, you’ve got to win!” as their relationship develops. This change is emphasised in the repetitive tri-colon of “We worked together, we ate together… we played together”. However, their difference in culture becomes a burden in their irony shown in “I was always treated with courtesy but her family were unable to hide their disapproval” foreshadowing the tension companionship. The paradox of “For the first time in my life I hated being a Jew” also deliberates their controversial tryst. Christina’s pregnancy symbolises the crystallisation of this conflict “[the rabbi] had been unable to mask his disapproval” and “she will [could] never marry a Jew”. As both Christina and the baby die shortly after the birth, the oxymoronic “I had ended up killing the person I loved” draws a parallel to Hughes and Plath’s love and hate relationship. The conflict explored therein is the love of Christina and Benjamin against the disapproval of their cultural custodians.
In addition, the conflict of dominating personalities is represented in Hughes’ “Red”, in which the differing phases of Plath’s life are characterised through colour schemes. The extended metaphor of “red” throughout the poem alludes to Plath’s instability and represents her rage and passion. This notion is exemplified in the figurative word choices such as in “sheer blood-falls from ceiling to floor”. Through the symbolism of “poppies thin and wrinkly-frail”, Hughes suggests that she struggled with her psychological health and vulnerability. He also leads responders to believe that Plath dominated over him, conveyed by the violent imagery of “the carpet of blood patterned with darkenings, congealments” and “when you had your way finally our room was red. Furthermore the simile “you revelled in red I felt it raw – like the crisp gauze edges” allows Hughes to convince readers that he was victimised by her. However, he also mentions that Plath had a calmer side through the conflict and contrast from “red” to “blue”. He represents blue as her freedom, lucidity and happiness as apparent in the fragmented intertextual reference to “a little bluebird. Blue was better for you. Blue has wings”. Also, Hughes implies in the metaphor of “everything you painted you painted white” that it was the state of mind when she worked best, but the grief of her deceased father shrouds her life. This is evident as Hughes blames Otto Plath for Plath’s psychosis in the hyperbole “haematite to make immortal the precious heirloom…family bones”. Through the allusion of “the jewel you lost was blue”, responders are caused to believe Plath’s death and sanity was lost “in the pit of red” by her own doing – not Hughes’. The multiple personalities of Plath leads to a conflict in perspectives about the cause of her suicide, as well as the role Hughes played to her insanity.
Mendes’ film American Beauty explores
– Colour Schemes play a huge component in relaying the information
- Ab has the following aspects
- Red door, red roses (falling), red roses covering Angela
- Red Blood when gun shot happens
- Thus for Red, it relates to madness, passion, sin, desire, and anger (prefer madness).
- Blue in the poem represents lucid, sane, clean, and freedom.
- For American Beauty, the blue of the poem is represented through the character Ricky – he seems to see the world outside the madness in which all the other casts are stuck in. His 8mm is the lucid, sane version of the cinematography that is used to mask the truth via deliberate mis-en-scenes. (Irony)
- White on the other hand is represented by the working faces of each individual.
- Carolyn at first is professional, clinical, and superficial – this is represented by white, her dress is a beige light colour.
- Lester’s white lucid moment are when he quits his job, he escapes from the madness and is able to find his sanity back, but not for long, as the madness of others catch up to him.