Composers can manipulate the content of their texts by employing deliberate literary techniques that inevitably shape their representation of the truth. The film text ‘Sylvia’ (2003) and Ted Hughes poems ‘The Shot’ and ‘Sam’ (Birthday Letters) display conflicting perspectives of the relationship between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, which has become world renowned as a long standing literary controversy. The ‘Birthday Letters’ poems harbour poignant emotions such as pain and self-pity, whereas the film ‘Sylvia’ uses visual techniques to convey the anguish and torment endured by Plath.
These two representations inexorably challenge the views of the audience and produce an array of responses. By incorporating various textual forms and language techniques such as imagery and extended metaphor, the composers have generated incendiary perceptions into the parallels drawn from both Plath and Hughes lives. In his poem ‘Sam’, Hughes portrays the perspective that it was Plath’s intense nature which caused him to ‘jump the fence’ and seek relationships with other women.
Sam was a horse that Sylvia had rented out for riding which subsequently bolted on her; however Hughes uses th is incident as an extended metaphor for their relationship (Sylvia the rider and Hughes the horse which she lost control of). There is a conflicting perspective within the poem itself, which exacerbates the complex nature of their relationship. At the beginning of the poem Hughes conveys that it is Plath’s intense nature that causes him to ‘start home at a gallop’.
He states that Sylvia herself loses control of their relationship, ‘you lost your reins. You lost your seat’. This conveys the perspective that Plath was an emotionally unstable person who had lost previous control of their relationship. In contrast to this, is the perspective that Plath was a talented writer that produced eminent poetry. ‘Something in you not you did it for itself’ reflects the idea that she was kept alive only to pursue her art and poetry.
This line is also an awkwardly punctuated line which conveys Sylvia’s loss of control through its jarring auditory effect. In the last stanza Hughes claims that Plath intentionally tripped him when he himself ‘jumped a fence’ and indulged in infidelity. The poem lacks a blatant or obvious reference to his infidelity; instead Hughes chooses to use it as a metaphor. By doing so, Hughes is emphasising the recklessness and mental instability, ‘anguish’, of Plath.
The emotional intensity which eventually overwhelmed Hughes and caused him to ‘bolt’, he claims was the fixation that Plath had with her father’s death. In Hughes poem ‘The Shot’, he establishes that Plath’s need to worship men in her relationships was a pattern established in her childhood and was directly tied to her relationship with her father, ‘Daddy’. Plath’s father’s role in her life is evident throughout the poem, ‘Your Daddy had been aiming you at God, When his death touched the trigger’.
This line also reflects the accusatory tone of the poem, as he directly addresses Plath and therefore, makes the assertion even more powerful. Metaphor and imagery is used throughout the poem. The image of Sylvia Plath as a bullet heading towards her ultimate destination of death is evident in the line, ‘you were gold-jacketed, solid silver, Nickel-tipped. Trajectory perfect’. The listing of description is effective as it is insistently emphatic and highlights the fact that Hughes is confident in his assessment of Plath.
Hughes’ perspective is that Plath’s instability and pattern of erratic behaviour was established before Hughes met her, or rather, that she was ‘designed at birth for a god’. Hughes therefore is positioning the reader to believe that he had nothing to do with her instability, that it was merely how she acted since she was born. Consequently, Hughes shapes his perspective on their relationship which is in conflict with the common belief that he was responsible for her mental deterioration and ultimate death.