First, are you our sort of a person?
Do you wear
A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
A brace or a hook,
Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,
Stitches to show something’s missing? No, no? Then
How can we give you a thing?
Open your hand.
Empty? Empty. Here is a hand
To fill it and willing
To bring teacups and roll away headaches
And do whatever you tell it.
Will you marry it?
It is guaranteed
To thumb shut your eyes at the end
And dissolve of sorrow.
We make new stock from the salt.
I notice you are stark naked.
How about this suit——
Black and stiff, but not a bad fit.
Will you marry it?
It is waterproof, shatterproof, proof
Against fire and bombs through the roof.
Believe me, they’ll bury you in it.
Now your head, excuse me, is empty.
I have the ticket for that.
Come here, sweetie, out of the closet.
Well, what do you think of that?
Naked as paper to start
But in twenty-five years she’ll be silver,
In fifty, gold.
A living doll, everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk, talk.
It works, there is nothing wrong with it.
You have a hole, it’s a poultice.
You have an eye, it’s an image.
My boy, it’s your last resort.
Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.
I adore Sylvia Plath’s poetry but I think that The Applicant is probably my favourite. It’s a poem that talks about the roles of men and women in the late 50s and early 60s. It is not the only poem of its kind, however I think that it is possibly the best, everything is presented in a frank, slightly humourous manner with a real underlying sense of wrongness.
The poem is mainly focused on marriage and yet appears as an interview, this suggests the falseness of marriage and also introduces the idea that it is simply a transaction, a theme that runs throughout the poem. One of the ways in which this is made more effective is by the use of the direct address with ‘you’ – this puts the reader into the position of the applicant regardless of age, gender or time of reception (even read now, 50 years later, it still holds the same sense of wrongness and we no longer live in the world that Plath inhabited). The poem begins with the questions about the applicant’s physical health, this could be linked to the idea that a woman’s role was seen as the mother, these questions regarding the physical workings of her body examine that – ‘Do you wear… Rubber breasts…’, the reference to ‘breasts’ and then later in the same line ‘crotch’ add to the idea that a woman’s job was to have children.
The idea of marriage simply being a transaction is also explored in the fifth stanza (though it begins in the fourth) with the phrase ‘Will you marry it?’ being used, not in regards to a person but instead to a sale of a suit. The suit could be seen as a metaphor for marriage, it is said to be ‘stiff’ and ‘not a bad fit’ this links to the idea of marriage being the expected norm of the time, that regardless of whether or not the suit fits, it is the one that they will ‘‘bury you’ in. It is the one that you – as the reader and the applicant – are expected to wear forever.
Again, the idea of it being a sale is repeated in the sixth and seventh stanza with the references to ‘paper’, to ‘silver’ and then to ‘gold’. These are actually references to the anniversaries that marriages go through but the way it is presented suggests that marriage is simply an investment, one gets a product – in this case, a wife – early and then in time the value of it increases. Not a particularly romantic or happy image to portray, but sadly the truth for so many people at the time.
I find that the most difficult part to read is the part about the things that the woman will be expected to do. Not because of the hugely gendered roles, but instead for the use of ‘it’. ‘It can sew, it can cook’. This is dehumanisation at its finest. A woman is reduced to nothing more that the physical actions that she can perform, and she is not even given a name… or even a proper pronoun. It is the word that we use to describe objects, ‘it’, this could be Plath using a single simple word to show the objectification of women. They are nothing more than ‘it’, they are nothing more than an inanimate object for a man to invest in.
It looks positively on neither men nor women. Men are suggested to be cold and calculating, worried only by money and whether or not the applicant is aesthetically pleasing. Women, passive and weak, a mother waiting for a child and a vessel waiting for a man.
This is by no means a full analysis of the poem but I feel that I gave explored the main points that I feel are the most important. This post is a little different to the others, so if you liked this then let me know and I’ll do a few more like this!