10/27 To Bedlam and Part Way Back Response

October 27th, 2010

When reading To Bedlam and Part Way Back, I noticed that one of Sexton’s repeating theme was the imagery of children, which she often used to establish similitudes between adults and children. From the very first poem “You, Doctor Martin” she says “what large children we are”, clearly implying that adults are children at a larger scale; in “Torn down from Glory Daily” we read that: “now, like children, we climb down humps of rock”, again, adults are compared to children. However, many times we are made aware of the child, or children, that appear(s)in solitary, briefly in a verse or two, not to be seen again in the poem. This “children in the background effect” is present in “The Kite”, “The Road Back”, “The Portrait of an old Woman…”, “Funnel”, among others. Furthermore, Sexton’s imagery of children also goes beyond the ornamental background piece, she also uses children as protagonists in poems like “The Bells”, “For Johhny Pole On the Forgotten Beach”, and “Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward”.

Why? I believe there is a good psychoanalytical explanation for this so I will leave that to the experts. As a reader, I think, this imagery of children calls for an awareness of life’s many stages; defends purity amidst the stains of addiction and mental illness; enforces the true beginning of life’s journey- and so on. By doing so, Sexton suggests that either we are never fully grown, or that growth is irreversible and the object of inner melancholy.

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2 Responses to “10/27 To Bedlam and Part Way Back Response”

  1. pamelaburger on October 28, 2010 5:09 am

    This is a great observation about the collection as a whole. I’m not an expert in psychoanalysis (though I often like to pretend I am!) but I wonder if her repeated mention of children is related to her troubled relationship with her mother, and to the fact that, while in the hospital and during her recovery she was dependent on others (doctors, her mother, her husband), making her somewhat child-like. In any event, I think that you are right, that the effect for the reader is to make us aware that “we are never fully grown,” or that the separation between childhood and adulthood is more fluid than it often seems.

  2. Stephanie Hochbaum on November 2, 2010 7:09 pm

    Diana, I really like your observation about Sexton’s repeated reference to children. I felt as well, throughout all the poems, that there is definitely something psychoanalytical underneath. Before reading her poems I googled Sexton’s biography and found that she did, indeed, as we discussed in class, suffer from mental illness. Her struggle is evident throughout her work. What I found to be interesting after re-reading some of the poems that you pointed out such as “What Large Children we Are,” is that though disturbed to a serious degree, it seems that Sexton was extremely contemplative of her role in life as an adult. Perhaps she found adulthood too great a difficulty. I think it is interesting that she does not address her children as the subject of children in her work, but rather it appears that she is reflecting on herself as the “child.” (as you and Professor Burger mentioned that feeling of “we are never fully grown…”)

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