The Implications of Plath's "Arrival of the Bee Box"

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  • Topic: Sylvia Plath, Consciousness, Poetry
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  • Published : October 8, 1999
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The Troubled Consciousness of Sylvia Plath as seen in "The Arrival of the Bee Box"

In the poem, "The Arrival of the Bee Box," Sylvia Plath uses a metaphor to

represent the darker aspects of the subconscious that are leaking into her conscious mind:

The box is locked, it is dangerous.

I have to live with it overnight

And I can't keep away from it.

There are no windows, so I can't see what is in there.

There is only a little grid, no exit.

It is inevitable that Plath will need to face the bees that lie in the box. She is "appalled"

at the thought of letting them out. She says "I am no source of honey/So why should they

turn on me," but she is still clearly convinced that they pose a threat. She suggests that

the bees taken separately would not be too difficult to handle, but that now they are like a

"Roman mob" and could kill her. Plath emphasizes the fact that she has "ordered" this

box in the first and fifth stanzas. This suggests that she knew she would have to deal with

what the bee box represents.

The bees that are locked up in the box symbolize the swarming and potentially

destructive chaos that Plath can feel within herself. The bees have the ability to inflict

pain on her and sting her. She longs to take control over the bees to save herself from any

more pain. In the fifth stanza Plath does assert dominance over the bees in the box:

"They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner." She is trying to convince

herself of her own strength by placing herself in a position of power.

There is a correlation between the bees and her father. Her father Otto Plath was

an expert on insects--especially bees. The whole series of bee poems relates to her father

(like "The Bee Keeper's Daughter"). If the bees are locked in the box, then much of what

she is feeling is connected to her father. Perhaps she is trying to place herself in control

of the troubling memory of her father. Plath needs to confront her feelings of

abandonment and despondency. The description of the box as "dark" in the third stanza

further implies that part of what she must deal with inside of the box is related to him. In

"Daddy" Bishop refers to her father's "fat black heart." She also refers to him as the

"man in black" or the "black man" in other poems. Her attempt to place herself in control

of the bee box shows her desire to dominate someone (like her father) or something (like

her mind) and assume the position of "sweet God." To the bees she could be "sweet

God" but she knows that in the larger picture she is helpless and not in control. Her

desire to be "sweet God" over this enclosed space (a box) reflects her longing to be free

from feelings of entrapment.

The diction and imagery of the poem connote the troubling and confusing chaos

inside her unconscious. The diction creates a feeling of claustrophobia in the second

stanza through the repetition of words that connote suffocation. Plath says the box is

"locked," with "no windows" and "no exit." The box is described as similar to a

midget's coffin yet different because what lies inside is noisily stirring. Plath describes

the noise as composed of "unintelligible syllables." The "Roman mob" is speaking in an

unfamiliar language--"furious Latin." In the same way that she cannot understand the

messages from the box, she can not find order in her mind. As for the imagery, it is quite

gothic and is discomforting. She compares the blackness of the bees in the box to

African hands:

It is dark, dark

With the swarmy feeling of African hands

Minute and shrunk for export

Black on black, angrily clambering.

This is an allusion to the thousands of African slaves that were piled practically on top of

each other on ships ("black on black"). In the next stanza the imagery Plath's...
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