Just as the speaker of one of Adrienne Rich’s most anthologized poems, “Diving into the Wreck,” searches for “the thing itself and not the myth,” I too plan to demythologize the work of two of the most famous post-war American poets: Sylvia Plath and Rich herself, for although the popular consciousness positions the two writers in opposition to each other (the former considered gloomy and despairing and the later considered fiery and angry), I assert that this a false dichotomy, as both poetesses similarly employ a type of a uniquely feminine rage, that is, a type of indignation that is produced and constructed by a patriarchal system that affects women, and both use this anger as source for their creativity. With this research, not only do I intend to correct a common misconception about the two poetesses, but I also hope to draw attention to women’s resistance to oppression under patriarchy, as well as to trouble the very idea of what it means to be a woman (does the notion of a uniquely feminine wrath that seemingly binds the oeuvres of Rich and Plath threaten to essentialize women, defining them solely by their relationship to men and ignoring the multiple, fluid nature of identity?)
An underlying assumption of the sort of feminist criticism that I plan to employ in my research is the notion that an individual’s identity is inherently connected to the type of work they produce. Art is not created in a vacuum; it is made by individuals in a specific cultural context, and consequently the personal and political struggles of a writer will necessarily enter into his or her oeuvre. In other words, Plath’s and Rich’s identities as women play a significant role in their work: they are not merely women who happen to write; they are women writers. As a result, my project necessitates the use of archival materials, and the ability to visit these archives is only made possible by the Honors Fellowship. Given the personal nature of Plath’s and Rich’s writings, understanding their lives is essential to understanding her work, and there is no better way to learn about their interiority than through these personal effects. Every pencil marking, physical trace, even the handwriting style and material of paper on which Plath and Rich wrote, offers crucial insights into their creative practices and private experiences that are essential for my project.
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Majors: English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies
Future Plans: After graduating, I hope to attend graduate school to pursue a MA or PhD in English or comparative literature, focusing specifically on American Modernism and Modernist Women Writers.
Hobbies: In the little free time I have, I enjoy listening to music, reading, writing, watching television and movies, running, and spending time with cats.
Fun Fact: In 2009, Taylor Swift performed a live concert for my ~800 person high school in our school’s auditorium.
Follow Noah’s research on the W&M Honors Fellowships blog!