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Analysis of ‘Bitter Strawberries’ by Sylvia Plath

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Bitter Strawberries

Sylvia Plath a gifted enigma was born in a suburb of Boston on October 27th 1932. She battled mood swings, perfectionism while she lived her life as a wife, poet and teacher. Disappointed with what was happening around her, in her life, she committed suicide on February 11th 1963. She was left fatherless when she was eight and lived with her mother’s parents and went to school in Winthrop. She began her writing by keeping a journal and when she was seventeen she published ‘And Summer will not come Again’ and ‘Bitter Strawberries’ in magazines and this earned her a scholarship to Smith College. She majored in English Literature and Composition. From then there was no looking back on her career as a writer and she has given many poems, short-stories and novels to the literary world.

‘Bitter Strawberries’ is one of the earlier and significant poems of Sylvia Plath and it was published soon after her graduation from high school, in a magazine called the Christian Science Monitor. The setting of the poem is a strawberry field and the characters are the strawberry pickers, all women. They are discussing ‘about the Russians’ and the strong voice that was heard about them was 'Bomb them off the map.' The next stanza is the description of the flies that bite into the strawberry and make it sour. Analysts wonder why these lines are included as there is no connect to the main theme of the poem. These lines could be alluding to the fact that like the flies the Russians are also turning the lives of the Americans into something sour and difficult.

One woman amongst the picker is worried as she has a son who was ready to join the army in the war against the Russians. In the next stanza she speaks about the larger picture. So it is not just a strawberry field. It is a larger area where men are ‘Hoeing lettuce, weeding celery.’ Children are playing among the tall grass. The reader is brought to the strawberry field again and the main voice said that the ‘draft’ had been passed and that the Russians should have been bombed. One little girl got very upset with this conversation and wanted it to be stopped. In the next stanza we get to know that the little girl’s name is Nelda. The woman snaps at the girl and then stands up to bring all the women back to their work and asks 'How many quarts?’ which she records in her notebook.  So, all the women go back to their work. In the last stanza the skill of picking the strawberry is described. They are quick, experienced; protecting the berry they pull it off the stem.

‘Bitter Strawberries’ has thirty nine lines divided into seven stanzas of varying length. In some stanzas there are only three lines while in some there are more than eight. There is no specific rhyme scheme. There are conversations in the poem. The scenes and the people in the poem are described with vivid imagery but what takes the cake is the line ‘Her blue eyes swam with vague terror.’ The poem is about the fear of the Russians spreading all over the world and the routines of life. As the women were going about their routine work they discuss the draft and it’s after effect. And why are they worried? They know that if a war starts between Russia and America, the men in the family will have to leave for the war. The title says ‘Bitter Strawberries’ that might mean that the sweet routine life is becoming bitter with the presence of Russians.