Bible of Dreams : the cultural work of Sylvia Plath's short fiction.
Sylvia Plath has become the poetic icon of a post-war, Anglo-American literary culture.
Yet her short stories are persistently read as semi-autobiographical, or in the context of
her poetry, and have so far remained deprived of close critical attention as a collection
of work. This thesis argues that the marginalisation of Plath's short stories is the result
of a high-cultural agenda to privilege her work as a poet, and considers the impact of
Birthday Letters and its role in this context. It suggests that this reading of Plath's work
replays the most oppressive aspects of her culture, which she sought to challenge in her
short stories. It also aims to redress this marginalisation, reading her stories against the
cultural context within which they were written: the popular psychological and
sociological texts, films and comic strip super-heroes which simultaneously influenced
and defined the period. In asserting the social, historical and political significance of
Plath's writing it argues that, whilst working within popular fictional forms and generic
conventions, Plath's textual strategies - including irony and parody - enable her
narratives to enact these conventions excessively, challenging the manifest content and
The thesis asserts that Plath's short stories expose the political investment in culturally
constructed images of a passive, domestic femininity as a means of ensuring social
stability and political conformity at the beginning of the Cold War. Her writing explores
the effects upon women of living within a highly gendered culture and the consequences
of the cultural imperative to approximate images of femininity which had been
culturally constructed. However, the thesis argues that, in the interplay between the
manifest and latent content of the texts, Plath's stories disruptively reveal that which has
proved most disturbing and threatening to patriarchal culture, marking the return of that
which has been culturally repressed.