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
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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