Monday, May 3, 2010

Exhibit A: Paper Doll

Although Sylvia Plath has been dead for nearly fifty years, she is constantly referenced in popular culture. From music and television to independent sellers on Etsy and personal tattoos, Plath is very much a presence in today's society. Interestingly, however, her reputation outside of literary circles seems to be based more upon her suicide than upon her actual writing. A large part of Plath's legacy seems to be based on the fact that she died young, in the midst of her writing prime. This added mystique has often wormed its way into Plath's representation in today's media.

Take, for instance, this Sylvia Plath paper doll (closeup at right) featured by the Etsy seller Lisa Perrin at her shop, LeLapinTriste. At first glance, the image of Plath with a pen in her hand seems fitting. However, upon viewing the entire paper doll set, a much more alarming overall concept reveals itself:

Amid a few changes of clothing and a minuscule typewriter is the most prominent accessory of all: an open oven, symbolic of Plath's 1963 suicide. Rather than choosing to represent Plath by using a relic from her life, Perrin has chosen to represent her by using the instrument of her death. This is a perfect example of the fact that modern portrayals of Plath often pay more attention to the suicide than to her work as a writer.

Although unfortunate, this is interesting from a cultural standpoint in that Plath's personal life directly interferes with common perceptions about her writing. Not all modern references to Plath include such glaring allusions to her death, but this phenomenon is definitely very prominent and will be visible in many upcoming posts.

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