Blood and Water Symbolism Plath's Cut, Smith's Boat, and Difranco's Blood in the Boardroom

Topics: Life, Suicide, Death Pages: 8 (2975 words) Published: January 9, 2011
"Self-preservation is a full-time occupation I’m determined to survive on these shores I don’t avert my eyes anymore in a man’s world I am a woman by birth." This quote, from Ani DiFranco’s song, "Talk to Me Now," expresses a feminist’s view on a woman’s determination to live her life in a world often dominated by males. The theme of the life cycle and its numerous manifestations is frequently found in feminist poetry. It seems that women writers are particularly intrigued by the subject of life and death perhaps because they are the sex which have the unique role of giving birth to the next generation. In the works of Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith, and Ani DiFranco, the symbols of blood and water are used to represent the various aspects of the life cycle. Plath’s poem "Cut", Smith’s poem "The Boat", and DiFranco’s song "Blood in the Boardroom" all make references to blood. Although, the meaning of blood in these poems varies from suicide, in Plath’s poem, to menstruation, in DiFranco’s song, to death, in Smith’s poem, the subject of blood remains as the central symbol in all of these works. Water, as well, is a symbol illustrated by each of these artists. In Plath’s "Full Fathom Five", Smith’s "Not Waving but Drowning", and DiFranco’s "Circle of Light", water symbolizes such divergent topics as death in Plath’s poem, life in DiFranco’s song, and fear in Smith’s poem. These three twentieth century feminist artists express their opinions through their works, as the topics of their poetry overflow with similar, yet symbolically different, references to blood and water.

Blood can symbolize death, but also life. One can die from the lose of too much blood, conversely, our life is created on the basis of blood as our main bodily component. The poem "Cut" by Sylvia Plath employs blood as the symbol of a woman’s power over her life to create death in suicide through the lose of too much blood. Just days before writing this poem, Plath had accidentally cut herself while cooking, all but slicing off the whole fatty tip of her thumb (Alexander 301). This kitchen accident acts as a Freudian slip of the knife that opens up a whole world of unconscious motives in a woman’s imagination, and leads to an outpouring of Plath’s feelings of castration as a women (Bundtzen 141). Plath employs images and metaphors in a speedy format, which tumble forward as her imagination struggles to name the shifts in feeling that she endures (248). Her decapitated thumb, a sort of phallic symbol, with its flowing blood embodies this imaginative outpouring. Throughout the poem, Plath’s mind remains active while her body exists passively; her mind’s transforming powers act upon her body. The blood oozing from her wound serves as evidence to the fact that she holds the power to destroy, even to destroy herself. The "cut" is evidence of a little "saboteur" and "Kamikaze man" inside her, of insidious self-destructive impulses sabotaging her life, plunging her towards death; the cutting of her thumb symbolizes castration. Plath envisions herself as a "thumb stump", a "dirty girl" who lacks something that would make her pure and whole. Perhaps in these lines she is mocking Freudian penis envy. Ostensibly, she, however, determines that her self-amputation serves as an acting out of her self-hatred as a woman, revealing that this kitchen accident manifests, against her conscious will, a sense of inferiority (248).

The extraordinary transformation of the thumb from oppressor to victimized comrade in retreat form the world can be explained in terms of the archetypal oppressor-figure, which dominates Plath’s imagination (Young 386). The blood of an injured finger takes on the characteristics and properties not usually associated with an injured thumb. This blood symbolizes a masochistic "thrill" of playing with death and suicide. To Plath, control over mortality proved a vital link in the chain of life. The enticement characterizing the ability to commit suicide...
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