Fort St Band 5/6 Indepth Hughes Notes Only

The medium of production, textual form, perspective and choice of language influence meaning.

Evaluate how effectively the prescribed text you have studied demonstrates this statement in relation to conflicting perspectives

How does textual form influence meaning: Poetry allows for Hughes to express his emotions, allows personal expression

The perspective of an event is inevitably shaped by the individual’s personal context and bias. This is exemplified by a study of the poetic anthology “Birthday letter” in which Hughes utilises the poetic form to illustrate the complexity of factors which led to his failed marriage. In particular, in “Your Paris” and “The Minotaur” Hughes’ strong emotional appeal manipulates readers to empathize with his plight and hence exonerate himself from Plath’s death. Overall, through the text’s portrayal of conflicting perspectives, we witness how the author’s deliberate choice of literary techniques influences the desired meaning conveyed to the audience.

Throughout the poetic anthology, Hughes constructs a complex image of Plath by revealing both her destructiveness and her vulnerability. In “Minotaur” and “Your Paris”, this characterization of Plath manipulates the responder into viewing Hughes as two personas; a victim of her violent outbursts and a caring husband who sympathises with her mental frailty, with the poetic medium facilitating the poem’s strong pathos. In Minotaur, Plath’s wilful destruction of Hughes’ life is exemplified by the symbolism of her breaking his mother’s “heirloom”. The plosive alliteration of “table-top you smashed… mapped with the scars of my whole life” captures the abrasive brutality of Plath’s personality and the impact it had on Hughes. Hughes utilises an imagery that is both domestic bliss and suggestive of volatility, “the bloody end of the skein”, referring to how Plath had “unravelled” the closely ‘knit’ bonds of family and marriage. Overall, through the characterization of Plath as a volatile personality, responders are strongly swayed to be sympathetic of Hughes as a victim of his wife’s mental condition.

In “Your Paris”, Hughes reiterates Plath’s malice with the listing of “calmed yourself with your anaesthetic – your drawing… , a bottle, me” dehumanizing himself to a mere object Plath used to relieve pain. However, contrastingly to the violence in Minotaur, Hughes reveals a vulnerable aspect of Plath. He reflects on how her cheery façade hid a painful reality, highlighted by the simile “your lingo… like an emergency burn-off to protect you from spontaneous combustion”. In this quote, Hughes’ dramatic choice of language empathises us with Plath’s brittle condition. Also, the metaphor of “the mere dog in me, happy to protect you” positions himself through aporia as a loving and patient husband, in spite of her psychosis. By considering Hughes’ context, we understand that these dual portrayals of their relationship seeks to disprove critics of his chauvinistic behaviour towards Plath. Consequently, we realize that personal context and agenda inevitably shape the author’s representation of events; revealing how authorial empowerment of rhetoric persuades responders through the veracity of their perspective.

Another issue of conflict explored by both poems is the cause of Plath’s mental breakdown. Hughes attributes her suicide to her father’s death whilst continuously justifying his own arrogant behaviour during their marriage. For instance, in both poems, the mythical allusion of the Minotaur, such as “brought you to the horned, bellowing grave of your risen father” and “you could not find … the Minotaur to put a blessed end to the torment”, intensifies Hughes argument that Plath’s obsession over her unresolved paternal relationship fuelled her mental disintegration. “Your Paris” further demonstrates that she hid the impact her father had on her, emphasised by the nightmarish imagery of “underground, your hide-out, that chamber, where you hung waiting for your torturer”. Finally, her helplessness is fatalistically demonstrated by Hughes in the accusatory, “Your own corpse in it”, through which the enjambment of the prior line stipulates that he firmly places the cause of her demise upon her tortured relationship with Otto Plath. By showing the hidden complexities of this issue, Hughes dismisses the credibility of others’ perspectives.

Antithetically, Hughes also assumes partial accountability. In “The Minotaur”, his sarcastic retort, “Marvellous! I shouted, “Go on, smash it to kindling”, is anecdotal evidence of how he catalysed her emotional outburst. His rhetorical admission, “so what had I given him?” demonstrates his influence in Plath’s suicide and his inability to actively prevent it. “Your Paris” mirrors this passivity. The shift in tone from self-righteousness to sympathy highlights a realization of his often obliviousness to Plath’s suffering, “what searching miles/ did you drag your pain/ that were for me plain paving”. In the motif of the “guide dog, loyal to correct your stumbling, yawned and dozed…”, we see a clear conflict between compassion and indifference. Yet, although he admits his initial arrogance in quotes like, “I wanted to humour you”, he evokes our empathy by demonstrating his remorse at failing to protect Plath. Hence, both poems’ construction is heavily shaped by its attempt to justify Hughes behaviour towards Plath and vindicate him from critics who blamed him for Plath’s suicide.  Overall, the skilful use of poetic technique combined with the poem’s personal engagement persuades the audience to empathsize with Hughes.

As such, Ted Hughes demonstrates through his personal exoneration of public opinion that authors are able to be persuasive through an empowering use of language. For Birthday Letters, this is achieved through the poetic form, the inferential metaphors, the ambiguity of emotion, and his choice of persuasive language.


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