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Good morning and welcome today’s session of this NPTEL course titled introduction to world literature, we are looking at another piece of poem, this is by Sylvia Plath who was an American poet, she lived in the late modernist period that is from 1930 to 1960, she had died very young, she had died at the age of 30, she committed suicide, she was also the wife of another fellow American poet Ted Hughes, there are a lot of personal details about her which would also help us understand the kind of poetry that she had been writing and ways in which the personal and the political intersect in her idea of feminism, in her ideas of self and in the way she looked at, various institutions which also act as fetters as far as women’s lives were concerned. So the applicant is one of her poems where you find her at her best in terms of humour and this splitting contempt, so what is the title remind us of, when we see the title the applicant, it reminds us of the context of the job interview, it is about someone who is applying for a position but gradually into the poem you realise it has got to do nothing with a job application, but this is about marriage and this is about placing marriage within the marketplace that had become by the time that, this poem was getting written. It says that this poem was written in October 1962 and it was first published in London magazine that was in 1963 and this appeared in a book titled Ariel in 1965 and this has also become a very classic volume full of powerful poetry by Sylvia Plath and there was also a lot of controversy surrounding its content and editorship because it was also posthumous in nature, to get a sense how this poem sounds and about the tone that it sets, the setting of it right at the outset, I will read out to you the first couple of stanzas. The applicant by Sylvia Plath, first are you our sort of a person, do you wear a glass eye,false teeth or a crutch, a brace or a hook, rubber breast or a rubber crotch, Stitches to show something is missing, no, no, then how can we give you a thing, stop crying, open your hand empty, empty, here is a hand, to fill it and willing to bring teacups and roll away headaches and do whatever you tell it, will you marry it. It is guaranteed, to thumb shut your eyes at the end and dissolve of sorrow. The poem gives away what it is about right at the outset, it is about marriage and there is a man who has been asked certain questions by the speaker and we also get to know that one of the powerful things behind the title of this poem that it is not really targeting the man, it is not really targeting anyone in person, it is targeting the system, it is also showing us how certain things are very deeply rooted, deeply ingrained that, there is no way of getting out of it. So this is a poem that explores the meaning of marriage, the gender stereotypes and the social pressures and how this poem becomes extremely relevant and powerful is in the way how it shows that even men are victims of this stereotype, they are also under a lot of social pressure to do what is required of them and look at the series of questions at the beginning about whether there is a, there are artificial parts and it also draws our attention to the kind of artificiality and kind of many unnatural things which were increasingly being used to boost the looks of both men and women. It draws out attention to the artificiality which had set in by the 1960s and this poem is written in the 1960s and what is the relevance of 1960s is especially in the American and European context, that is a time when the second wave feminism had begun to set in, so when we look at this poem from the context of the second-wave feminism, it becomes to make more sense, that is also the time when marriages as an institution began to be questioned from various angles and this is also the time that feminism as a movement, it began to move from merely the activist, political, articulations and it began to enter the households and in America. Particularly this is the time the baby boom, the baby boom years are also happening, this is right after the Second World War and there is a lot of focus on the family, on making babies literally and during this time, we also know that it is time in the beat generation happens there are a lot of things, a lot of protests going on from the fields of culture, music, writing, where there is a very active way in which voices are being raised and projected against this domination of institutions which also by extension try to reinforce the stereotypes of the gender of the institution related to marriage, about conventions, about conforming to certain things which are considered, more important and perhaps articulating oneself that perhaps giving a sense of agency to oneself. So this poem also needs to be read in that context and as mentioned earlier, it is the system, it is the overall institution which is being targeted over here and it is also quite amazing n which she also brings in the political element, the political angle to get through such a lucidly written poem. The subversion, which is taking place is in a very, very sarcastic way and you need to be there to actually get it, you need to know the context, the political, social developments of that period to really get what she is hinting at, and as far as Sylvia Plath is concerned she led a very nonconformist a very controversial life, and she also believed that marriage is an institution which may totally take away the creativity that she was gifted with and if we look at it from along the lines of the revolution that Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf had set in the way in which the Virginia Woolf spoke about a room of one’s own how she was trying to carve out space for herself. While being caught within the domestic chores and the mundaneness of domesticity, we find that Sylvia Plath is radically different from that, while in Woolf's writings we find her trying to carve out space, we find in Sylvia Plath, that she is trying to get out of it completely, there is no way in which she is trying to negotiate peacefully, she wants to get out of the system and she wants to show that the system is completely worthless and there is no point trying to negotiate with it in a non-radical peaceful way and the easier you get out of it, it gets better. So that is the kind of radical articulation that second-wave feminism also brings in it’s not just about trying to refine and reform the system by staying within it all, it is also about getting out of it in radical ways as far as it is possible and this poem tells us about how ridiculous and how meaningless and how completely irrational this system is, the method, the process which goes on while one is trying to get into the system of marriage, while one is trying to fit oneself within the system of marriage. (Refer Slide Time: 8:17) And hand obviously, here is a hand to fill it and willing to bring teacups in rollaway headaches and do whatever you tell it, the hand, of course, signifies there is a woman whose hand is going to be given in marriage to this man to whom the speaker is talking to, to whom the speaker is addressing and what is this hand supposed to do? What is this woman supposed to do, whose hand is going to be given in marriage to this man, this hand is supposed to bring teacups and roll away headaches as mundane as it gets and that is the significance which also has been used to subvert the entire institution and look at how the hand, the woman is denied of any kind of agency, not to say that the man has a choice here, he is also being forced to be a part of this because this is a need, a social need, a compulsion that he feels. I also wanted to recall the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice where Jane Austen in 19thcentury tells us that, it is a well-known fact that a man who has good wealth is also looking out for a wife and that is the kind of setting, the Sylvia Plath is also trying to subvert and question and radically reinvent over here. So the poem continues to progress in the form of an interview, the man who is in question over here, he has been interviewed over here and this man could be anyone, regardless of his background, his contacts, if you look at how poem proceeds, we get to know that it really does not matter from where the man is coming, where he is being positioned it remains pretty much the same, across time and space, and it becomes more relevant in the 1960s, of course and we can also see that it hasn’t really changed even the contemporary, this mode of interviewing the expectations and what is being expected all of that remains the same in a very ironically and in a very alarming way. (Refer Slide Time: 10:06) Will you marry it? It is guaranteed to thumb shut your eyes at the end and dissolve of sorrow, we make new stock from the salt, I notice you are stark naked, how about this suit, black and stiff but not a bad fit, will you marry it, so the man is being made ready for the occasion and the black suit, which fits well, it is a symbol for marriage, the actual ceremony of getting married and you know that in this process, from the time the hand is being identified and handed over to the man and this ceremony of getting married. There’s hardly any gap between this, there is no need to identify in such as love or connection or the romantic ideas of made each other, nothing of that sort, it is very, very simple, very, very straightforward because the man needs to get married and as long as he is sure to have met the right kind of expectations, he also can be ready with this suit to go and get married, it is as simple as that very, very matter of fact, and this is what Sylvia Plath is also trying to subvert and very, very brutally in a sarcastic way. And she is also trying to intervene in this debate about the role of women during this time and questioning , what exactly the woman do in contributing to the socio-political developments of this poem, I want you to take, I want you to also think about the beat generation during this time, in the post-1977 and 1980s, feminist scholarship has also tried to address the question of the role of women in the 1960s, which is also considered as a very radically reinventing phase as far as music, literature and culture, especially in the context of Europe and America was concerned and if you again take the case of the beat generation particular, we will also see that it was an all man affair and the women whenever they were mentioned they just were positioned as either this partners or girlfriends of these leading beat writers. So as much as the beat generation and the leading writers and that is of those times, much as they tried to subvert the system, much as they try to radically question how things were getting institutionalised, patriarchy was very, very rarely questioned and patriarchy could not be subverted in the ways that they were trying to and this is something that poet-writer as Sylvia Plath is also trying to get it and it is also about the complete lack of agency, not just from the side of the woman but also from the side of the man and this is what makes this poem very, very real and very hard-hitting because mentioned earlier, there is no way in which the man is targeted. It is the patriarchy, is the system which is being targeted in a very, very powerful way and what makes this all the more exciting is the fact, that this is being written even before the third wave of the feminism had hit, even before the third wave of feminism had begun to sink in and this continues to be relevant, there is a sarcastic element not lost, even when we read this today after these decades which have passed in between and it continues to show how a woman is best treated as a domestic thing and look at how the pronoun it is being used completely, so it takes away any kind of identity that a woman is supposed to have, there is absolutely no way in which the woman is given a sense of agency or any other purpose to serve except being handed over in marriage to the man who is a question here. Will you marry it, it is waterproof, shatterproof, proof Against fire and bombs through the roof, believe me, they will bury you in it, so there is a function that the woman is supposed to perform, but that is only within the context of marriage unless she is located very conveniently within the institution of marriage in connection with a man, her function is not complete at all, that is what this poem is also trying to subvert in question and very, very sarcastically undermine. And the strength and resilience of a woman which is expected of marriage, that is also being mocked at over here about how it is waterproof, shatterproof, proof Against fire and bombs and it is also questioning this idea of marriage, the eternity of it which is sanctified through the ceremony of marriage, through the ritual of marriage by indicating that the woman is supposed to stay strong, come what may and this is the idea, which is being radically questioned in the 1960s as well but at the same time. If you are familiar with the history, the political history of America, you would also get to know that the 1960s is a time when the state is also intervening, in a powerful way to ensure that family as a system remains intact and that is one of the things that the state is also using as a defence mechanism to bring the nation together, to build up closely-knit families, to deeply ingrain the values of domesticity, the values of relationships in the context of family and writers like Sylvia Plath, they also find this extremely delimiting and as far as Plath is concerned and we also know this through the many writings that are available from her journals and especially in her work the Bell Jar. How she found the roots of patriarchy growing deep and deep into every system, which was getting institutionalised and how she found herself being suffocated with and to such an extent that she had just decided to end her life and the young age of 30, while this poem remains very, very sarcastic, it is also about a certain kind of a fear that Plath is expressing, the fear that the domesticity would interfere with her, creativity and that the mundane chores the daily life of domesticity, the kids about the, how the figure of her husband and everything would undetermined her writing seriously. How that would undermine her personality itself and how that would radically change what she is and make her fit into something that she does not want to fit herself in, and that is the fear that this poem also captures wonderfully. Now your head, excuse me is empty, I have the ticket for that, come here sweetie out of the closet, well what do you think of that? Naked as paper to start but in twenty-five years, shewill be silver in fifty, gold. It is talk the permanence of this institution, of course, it is overtly presenting the very rosy picture, which is also the promise that this institution, offamily offers to one, but at the same time, the prospect is also very, very daunting and frightening as far as this poem is concerned and it talks about how this speaker, perhaps the speaker also stands for the society and it really does not matter what gender the speaker belongs to. No matter what gender the speaker belongs to, the voice is that of the society, it is the society speaking for the man and making decisions for the woman and saying I have the ticket for it, it is all under control, I have taken care of everything and look at the term used here, sweetie come here, sweetie out of the closet, it is a word, in India ring word which also comes in as very, very condescending at this point of time, does not have any idea about love over here, it has an upper hand and trying to tell the man and woman, though the addressee is mostly the man here, trying to tell the man and the woman that we have taken care of everything, you just need to do what is expected of you and not deviate from those conventions that you are supposed to follow. (Refer Slide Time: 18:17) But in twenty-five years she will be silver and in fifty gold, living doll, wherever you look, look at the imagery of the doll and I cannot help recalling The Doll’s House by Ibsen late 19th-century and how Nora the lead protagonist, how she is forced to walk out of the dollhouse, the family within which he was living, tired of being treated like a doll, tired of being taken care of and this imagery is very, very hard to miss over here and in the late 19thcentury as we know when the doll’s house was first staged in. Norway first and then across Europe, including Britain, it was a major blow to the conventions, when Ibsen’s plays were staged, it was even considered as an open shoe which would corrupt the society and in a dolls house. Incidentally, the husband Torvald he is not necessarily a bad sort of a person, he is the one who wants to take care of the family, the only thing which he is denying wife Nora is a sense of agency and that is enough to make her walk out, that moment when she realizes whether it is worth staying with this man. Who holds his own honour, his own sense of reputation above everything else and the moment she realizes that she is, she was being treated like a doll and there also we find she is not necessarily blaming Torvald for it, she later she traces it back to the roots of it are being traced back to patriarchy, even though the term self is not mentioned in any way and she realises that she was always treated like a doll, first by her father and later by her husband, she was always being treated like a doll, a very convenient arrangement. Where she is always told what to do, Where she is always taken care of her needs are being taken care, she has been baby talked to incessantly and this is something that begins to hit her very hard and once that realisation comes in, she finds it difficult to stay back, not even for the sake of kids and that is the kind of radicalism that had hit Europe from the late 19thcentury and it only gets more and more cemented radically. But in the 1960s. What makes it even more poignant is the fact that during a time, even when the mechanisms of the state, even when the various institution is trying to hammer down the significance of the family, the significance of sticking to conventions, we find these voices moving away from what is expected, moving out of the confinement, moving out of the state is of a conforming and radically questioning these institutions their value systems which could totally delimit the potential of not just women, but also men in significant ways. And from the 1960s onwards, we also find a lot of scholarship emerging from the context of feminism and this is also the time when we find that the nexus between these various forms of systems undermine the possibilities of minorities in terms of ethnicity, in terms of gender, in terms of race, in terms of the region all of these things are highlighted and we find an intersection, a sort of dialogue across these various articulations, so this poem also needs to be read in that larger context and not merely as an attempt to expose the flaw or the inherent fallacies of the institution of marriage, which is being questioned here, so what is this doll supposed to do? It can sew, it can cook, it can talk, talk, talk, it works there is nothing wrong with it, so as long as it works, as long as it can perform this basic functions everything is fine if it can sew and cook and if it can talk, talk and talk, if it can just entertain you and then do whatever is basically needed, mend clothes or feed you well, it should be fine, the man is being conditioned to accept there is nothing more that you should expect as long as the basic needs are met it’s fine. And what Plath finds extremely , perhaps, is the complete absence of intellectual compatibility that she also believed it, though she lived with a man who is also a fellow poet, Ted Hughes, we find that she was deeply dissatisfied and it is history also tells that soon after Plath’s death, a Hughes was also deeply devastated, they did not have a very rosy marriage, there were issues always throughout and through in her journals and her writing also she had to convey that it is the institution which had to be blamed, but it is impossible for an intellectual craving woman and independent woman to stay happy within these confinements. One may choose to disagree, one may choose to have different opinions about it and there was, of course, a lot of instances, perhaps to prove it. Otherwise, but the importance of this poem is that it has subverted everything and it has reduced everything to the minimal basic thing is that it is very hard-hitting and it is difficult for us not to see the splitting contempt which is there throughout and look at the words which are used in this poem, there is nothing profound about how it is stated, it is very, very simple, it has broken down the entire institution into very, very simple terms, about the basic functions, about the basic expectations which are also quite frightening in a significant way. It works there is nothing wrong with it, you have a hole, it’s a poultice, you have an eye it is an image, my boy it is your last resort, will you marry it, marry it, marry it, there is a sense of urgency towards the end as this is your last resort, you either get hold of it, you either claim it now or perhaps you will not get another chance, look at the amount of social pressure, which is being exerted, not just on the woman, but on the man as well and look at how the speaker is completely in control, completely in charge and here it’s not just the woman who has been denied of an agency, the man does not seem to have an agency either, we do not find, the poem is not even indicating that the man is trying to respond (Refer Slide Time: 24:48) And that the only kind of response that they could also tells his addressee, how can we give you a thing, stop crying, open your hand, there is a desperation into which the man is also being forced into and by the end, it is almost like persuading the man to agree, will you marry it, marry it, marry it, it seems as if there is a sense of agency but it is not there at all, as there’s no choice left the man has to either marry it or completely let go of this last chance, as the poem says my boy, it is your last resort, look at the way the word. My boy is also used very, very condescending, very, very patronising and one of the larger things that this poem trying to do is that the victim of patriarchy need not be the woman alone, it is both the men and women who are caught within this situation and this realisation has radically reinvented the kind of feminism, the kind of feminist politics that has come to stay from the 1960s onwards and even today when the systems are being questioned and when the ideologies are being radically reinvented and reshaped when the politics is being defined and refined in multiple ways, it is this realisation which remains at the heart of it. It is realisation, it is this realisation which also continues to be seen as one of the foundational things when one talks about feminism in the larger context, so in the framework of an interview, within the framework of the very, very conventional interview, what the poem is trying to do is that the mail interviewee is been given a chance to own something, so the woman is also seen as property, will you marry it, marry it, marry it, it is almost like being given a good property to own a good investment, something which you cannot afford to miss at all, to claim right away, to claim your ownership over it and then use that as a commodity which will in the next twenty-five years, it becomes silver and in the next fifty years turn into gold. So this is like a prized procession and a good investment, so here the figure of the women, the moment she gets transformed into within this institution as a wife, she also becomes a commodity, a thing of the marketplace, which will continue to give you certain returns in terms of prestige, in terms of revenue, in terms of social up-gradation in multiple ways, and it also ensures that the applicant is also the right kind of person to receive it, so more than compatibility at an emotional level, at an intellectual level, what here has been shown, is whether there is social compatibility, which can also be showcased in very rosy ways and finally before we wrap up look at the framework of the poem, look at the structure of the poem. The poetic lines break away very awkwardly and it is very hard to miss some of them, there is no structure which can be identified, there is no form to which it sticks, at some level, it is also suggesting that to be able to fit i to be able to fit in very, very, very well and to be able to claim this thing which is being offered in terms of marriage, in terms of the figure of a wife, you also need to lose something. (Refer Slide Time: 28:13) Look at the beginning of a poem, where the speaker is also finding out whether something is missing, which also indicates that it is not really perfection that the speaker is looking for, it is only about the willingness to give away something, the willingness to not remain true to oneself and the willingness to adapt and the willingness to fit into the convections that would make the applicant also a perfect one, someone who can really really fit in, so also an extension of the capitalist economy, which had begun to set in and the expectations of the market place. Finally, pay attention to the tone which also indicates consumerism and the societal pressure, which also reinforces stereotypes in multiple ways, and as we all know the 1960s is the time when commercialism and when the demands of the market had begun to set in multiple ways, and we also see this influencing, the turn of events as far as the shift from modernism to post-modernism is concerned, we know about the various things that changed as far as the market place is concerned, about how the television shows began to change, about how the idea of culture, the idea of producing art for the consumerist society. How all of those began to change, so this poem needs to be read within that larger context to make sense of how it deliberately tries to situate, particularly the institution of marriage over here, within these frameworks out of which it is trying to break away as well, so as we wrap up, I wanted to pay attention to how it continues to be relevant in today’s society in the contemporary world, where marriage and relationships, the institutionalised frameworks of it. They continue to be situated the high-powered world of commercial markets, and that is perhaps the greatest satire, that is perhaps the most hard-hitting sarcasm that this poem leaves us with and it continues to stay relevant across these decades, though this was published in the 1960s and Sylvia Plath herself had spoken thus about this poem, I leave you with that, in this poem, the speaker is an executive, a sort of exacting super salesman, he wants to be sure, the applicant for his marvellous product really needs it and will treat this, treat it right. So it is the marketplace that she also had in mind and for your information, there is also a reading by Sylvia Plath herself, which is available online and many say her admirers say that it is one of the best that you can find in terms of her reading and I also encourage you to access it and look at this poem and also be familiar with the ideas of the second wave feminism, when in the context of which this poem and its articulation begin to make more sense. Hopefully, will also get a chance to look at second-wave feminism and look at how that had radically changed how a women’s writing began to be read and began to be conceived within the larger patriarchal structures of, not just of society but also about literary reading and literary context and criticism, I thank you for listening and I look forward to seeing you in the next session.