“I am afraid of getting older,” Plath writes in 1949, at the age of seventeen: “I am afraid of getting married. Spare me from cooking three meals a day. Spare me relentless cage of routine and rote. I want to be free… I want, I think, to be omniscient… I think I would like to call myself ‘The girl who wanted to be God.’ Yet if I were not in this body, where would I be—perhaps I am destined to be classified and qualified. But, oh, I cry out against it. I am I—I am powerful—but to what extent? I am I.”
The reason the ‘myth’ of Plath is so great is because of the warring identities apparent in her life and in her work. Besides the fact that she was suspected to have been a manic-depressive, prone to exaggerated fits of misery and exhaustion, joy and excitement, sensuality and sexuality, irritability and anger, energy and creativity, she was also known to be a woman who wore many masks. “You walked in, laughing, tears welling confused, mingling in your throat. How can you be so many women to so many people, oh you strange girl?” she wrote in her journal in the summer of 1952.
The ‘myth’ of Sylvia Plath is one that has been written and rewritten in the almost fifty years after her death. She has been subject to exhaustive, unstinting examination and glamorization; there are over one hundred books in print dedicated to Plath, and her Internet following is that of cult status. The fascination and mythologizing of Plath is similar to that of James Dean or Marilyn Monroe; like them, her life ended early and in disaster, so she remains a legend, forever young. She seems to be a myth as much as she was a talented artist—her soap-opera life conflates glamour with destruction, a story that would overshadow any body of work. But her tabloid-worthy life and tragic end can not and should not define her: a deeper look into her work and those who read and study it show a constantly morphing poet who defies categorization.