Plath draws a parallel between famine and the obsession with being thin to satirize how we mourn for those who starve due to the lack of nourishment but celebrate those who starve themselves in order to fit societal norms in order to maintain the perfect petite body. “Drinking vinegar in tin cups”, was a method employed by the Nazi’s to weaken the Jewish Prisoners as vinegar has weight reducing properties. What seems like a cruel punishment when thought of in terms of the Holocaust is actually a popular form employed by people who are trying to lose weight. “They are always with us, the thin people” symbolizes both the memory of the victims of the holocaust as well as how we don’t notice the integration of these girls who look similar to starved victims that we come in contact with on a daily basis. Since these people aren’t victims of ‘famine’, they pass by ignored. Additionally, the Jewish people are consistently blamed by society for self-victimizing them in the Holocaust. Many historians argue that if the Jewish people united and fought against the Germans, they could have possibly stopped the Holocaust from occurring. This self-victimization applies to people who desperately try to fit into this perfect physique created by the media. “Empty of complaint, forever”, show cases this idea. ‘Empty of complaint”, shows how both parties refused to speak out against their repercussions. Girls who refuse to come clean with their binging and starving habits cannot complain about their silly mistakes, thus holding their silence ‘forever’. This silence shows the “thinning” of one’s inner fight and of the emotions such an injustice and anger. Plath uses morbid choices in diction that relates back to war such as ‘battalion’ ‘menace’ and ‘victims’ to show how this pressure received by females through the media is a war itself.
This poem is structured through the usage of two line stanzas that are shaped by masculine rhyme. Masculine rhyme is when the last syllable of the line rhymes with the following line in the stanza. The choice is masculine rhyme is ironic as when the desire to be ‘thin’ is usually a concept that is connected back to females. By using masculine rhyme, Plath suggests that this ‘thinning’ occurs in both males and females and also suggests that this ‘thinning’ does not concern merely the ‘thinning’ of one’s body but also of the mind. This rhyme also creates a morbid tone when read out loud. The usage of rhyme and morbid diction creates a contrast that assists in Plath’s attempt to satirize the obsession with being thin. The fact that the poem rhyme creates a ‘song-like’ feel which symbolizes how although thinness seems beautiful at first, once you diverge deeper into it, you see the negative subtleties of it, which is shown through the morbid diction. Two line stanzas reinforce the idea of ‘thin’ and small further pushing the thesis.
Plath uses a plethora of types of diction to further reinforce the thesis. She uses her diction to draw a parallel to the United States. “Grayness, blues, reddens” are essentially morbid forms of the basic “White, blue, red” of the American flag. She goes on to talk about “frieze of cabbage-roses and cornflower pales”, which is a famous line from Roosevelt’s speech. This American themed diction clearly shows how the audience this poem is built for is those who reside in America. Plath is deliberately trying to send a message to Americans so that they will regain their sense of self rather than easily giving up to Media’s never-ending attempts to brainwash society. Word choices such as ‘movies’ and ‘headlines’ show how media objectifies issues such as the Holocaust and war in general, creating a glamourized idea of war. Plath writes about how after these movies we talk about such ‘thin’ people are ‘unreal’ although we ourselves are ‘thin’ people since our personal opinion has been stripped from us and we are merely repeating what these blockbusters program the viewers to say. “The contracted country of the head” is Plath’s way of talking about the brain. She essentially is trying to convey the idea of us “’thinning’ in various forms is due to our mind and the subconscious messages drilled into us through media. Furthermore, the image of ‘the old woman in the mud hut’ created by the choice if diction shows how powerless we are. An ‘old woman’ is someone who is unable to fight back against media and ‘mud hut’ symbolizes how regardless of our advance in technology, we remain primitive to our thoughts and are can easily be over powered. This image show cases how powerless we are when faced with the force of the media.
Overall Sylvia Plath’s poem, “The Thin People”, is about thinning of humanities physical and mental self due to our heavily media immersed society. Plath strategically uses structure, carefully placed diction and extended metaphors concerning the Holocaust to push her thesis. Overall “The Thin People” objectifies the loss of self in American society specifically through the obsession with media. The parallel to the holocaust created by extended metaphor use shows the ignorance of humanity and our inability to see that these ‘thin’ people are essentially victims of a mental war. Masculine rhyme and two line stanza further pushed Plath’s overall thesis. Essentially, “The Thin People” acts as not only a piece of art but a political message.
Plath, Sylvia. The collected poems. New York: Harper & Row, 1981.