There are two kinds of male-female relationships in Sylvia Plath’s poetry: those between fathers and daughters and between husbands and wives. Neither relationship seems to be happy. In ‘Lesbos’ the husbands are impotent, useless, deserving of scornful dismissal. They could be said of the potential husband s in ‘The Applicant’. But at least these men are not physically threatening, as the black demi-devil husbands in ‘Daddy’ most definitely is. Here the husband is sadistic torturer. The silent, silver suited husband who brings the sinister gift in ‘A Birthday Present’ is alarming too. He torments his wife in different, more subtle ways. Overall, heterosexual love relationships are problematic in Sylvia Plath’s poems. Even when she writes excitedly about being pursued by a lover, there is a strong current of violence running through the poem, ‘Pursuit’, a suggestion that the female is the victim, the bait. She will be eaten up worn out, cast aside.
Cold or sadistic husbands are mirrored by other sinister male figures in Sylvia Plath’s work. In ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’ the black, masculine tree is enigmatic, refusing to provide and comfort or answers. Male figures associated with organized religion and medicine are almost always threatening, the sexton and rector in ‘The Bee Meeting’ bewilder the startled vulnerable speaker who is being initiated into bee-keeping, the doctors ‘The Stones’ assault the female patient’s body: they are deliberate clinical torturers.
We find the most shocking descriptions of male violence in Sylvia Plath’s work, which occur when she describes the father figure, specially her own father, Otto Plath. Her poems about her dead father are some of her most intense works. Like the mother in ‘Medusa’, the father in ‘Daddy’ is restricting, suffocating. He is more than this. He is a brute and a vampire, a Nazi commandant, a devil.
Almost the same idea echoes in ‘The Rival’. Though the title is ironic in its own way, we find two warring figures, husband and wife. It is a poem in which metaphor; subject and above all, tone combine to produce the effect of cold, furious animosity and rivalry between husband and wife. Perhaps it is the reflection of the proposal life of Sylvia Plath. She has witnessed and experience bitter conjugal relationship both in the case of his parents and in that of her own.
In spite of her obvious misgivings about male-female relationship, Sylvia Plath did choose to write about male subjects on occasions. They occur more frequently in poems first published in The Colossus. ‘Suicide off Egg Rock’, ‘The Hermit at outermost House’ and ‘Insomniac’ are all convincing depictions of male subjects.