Sample essay – birthday letters
Module C: Conflicting Perspectives
Perspective denotes a way of viewing the world, and significantly influences the ways in which responders are positioned with regard to events, personalities or situations. Throughout his anthology Birthday Letters, which is an address to his dead wife Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes develops a perspective which cultivates the sympathy of the responder. Conflicting perspectives are evident in the interplay between memory and hindsight, the opposing personas of Hughes and Plath, and the inconsistency between appearance and reality. The form and content of this anthology is indicative of Hughes’ attempt to publicly impose his perspective upon his relationship with Plath; a perspective which is largely unchallengeable in Plath’s absence. Although the title ‘Birthday Letters’ has positive connotations and implies a level of intimacy as well as truth, in actuality the anthology is motivated by, and is a deeply subjective exploration of, death. Inherent within each of the poems is a tone of helplessness, sometimes of regret, which serves to minimise Hughes’ role in the events surrounding Plath’s suicide.
The conflicting perspectives which arise from Hughes’ dual roles as composer and persona in Birthday Letters are reflected in the interplay between memory and hindsight. In “Fulbright Scholars” this interplay manifests itself in the tension created by the poem’s opening with, and the repeated juxtaposition of, rhetorical questioning with answers, for instance where he asks “Were you among them? I studied it…”. This questioning and speculative tone gives the impression that Hughes’ perspective is truthful, when in reality his reconstruction of the event is affected by his knowledge of the future. Memories are informed and given significance by hindsight, as when in “The Shot” Hughes reflects on how “Vague as mist, I did not even know / I had been hit”. The use of the past tense in “The Shot”...
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