Women during the late 1950’s

Women during the late 1950’s, early 1960’s seemed to be drawn to the idea of becoming mothers, and motherhood. It was considered the most beautiful, and most natural profession for a woman to attain. At the time motherhood could be described as a women’s basic mission, profession and inseparable part of her nature. Due to these perspectives society, at the time, often equated motherhood with femininity. It was against this cultural background in 1959, while pregnant with her her first child, that Sylvia Plath wrote her short poem “Metaphors”. “Metaphors” is written as a riddle of sorts, in which Plath uses a multitude of unrelated metaphors to describe herself, and current condition. In “Metaphors” Plath expresses her ambivalence about motherhood and her internal struggle of duty versus individuality through literary devices and the unique structure of the poem itself.
“Metaphors” begins: “I’m a riddle in nine syllables,” (1) establishing that the poem, or perhaps the speaker herself is a riddle to be solved. A riddle is not easily figured out and often times needs to be carefully considered to find its meaning. Fortunately for the readers of Plath’s poem she gives a major clue about the topic of the riddle presented with the unique way she structures her poem. “Metaphors” is written as a single stanza consisting of nine lines; each of those lines contains exactly nine syllables. Every line is a metaphor for the speaker’s feelings about her current state, and seamingly corresponds to the nine months of pregnancy.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines riddle as “something or someone difficult to understand” (Riddle). This definition of the word riddle, and the fact that Plath uses this word to define herself gives the reader more evidence of the true meaning of her poem, and her feelings about pregnancy, and motherhood. Plath undoubtedly is conflicted between how society expects her to feel about pregnancy, and how she truly feels. She may feel that to publicly voice her true feelings at the time would be taboo, and difficult for most to understand, so in order to express herself she uses witty metaphors. While some of the poem’s images are rather humorous – she describes herself as “a melon strolling on two tendrils,”(3) for instance – the overall depiction of pregnancy is not very heartening. The speaker whom readers should assume is Plath herself, is discouraged by her physical appearance. She feels large and cumbersome, comparing herself to “An elephant, a ponderous house,” (2) an image that is in stark contrast to the “glowing” description of pregnancy commonly used. She expresses no joy with her increasing size. Instead, she is too well-aware of how she has lost control of her body.
Upon closer analysis, Plath’s choice of imagery and metaphors reinforce her belief that she is simply a carrier. “..a means, a stage…” (7) For instance, an elephant, which she compares herself to in line 2, is valuable not for itself, but for its ivory. The timber of a house is valuable only for what it contains – a family – and not in itself. In line 6 she compares herself to a fat purse containing “Money’s new-minted..”. She is alluding to the fact that purse is insignificant, however large it may be, and the value lies in what is inside the purse, the money which has meaning beyond itself.