Sylvia Plath who was awarded Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1982, started to write at the age of eight. This poem appeared in Boston Traveller. By the time she reached college Plath had written over 50 short stories and they were published in many magazines. She felt she was destined to write prose and short stories and kept poetries aside. However she was not very successful as a prose writer. She became popular for her poems, novels and short stories. Sylvia Plath was born on 27th October in Boston and died on February 11th 1963.
‘The Applicant’ was written in October 1962 and was first published in the London Magazine on 17th January 1963. This poem explores the import of social pressures, gender stereotypes and marriage. She has used the framework of an interview to bring forth her views. The interview is for a wife and she is treated more like a commodity rather than a human being. It starts with a satirical note and this tone is seen all through the poem. In the beginning one wonders what the interview is about because the interviewer is looking for disabilities in the applicant. Disabilities like glass eye, false teeth, crutch, rubber breasts. When the applicant gives a ‘no’ for an answer then he says that he will fill his hand with that of a woman. Only in the second stanza we get to know that the interview is for a bride.
Taking the hand of woman might seem romantic but here the speaker has no such intentions as he goes on to tell the uses of the hand. The hand will bring ‘teacups’ and ‘roll away’ headaches of her husband-to-be. This was the gender typecast in the early 19th century. Wives had to be submissive to their husbands and be a healer for their husbands. The wife would dissolve the sorrows of the man. Then the interviewer notices that the applicant is naked and offers a black suit which is stiff but is resistant to water, shatter fire and bomb. In between the description of the suit is the line ‘Will you marry it?’ This indicates that the wife that he takes will be resistant to all kinds of problems and will face it well.
The interviewer mercilessly says that the applicant’s head is empty and then calls the girl to come out. The interviewer says that she might look like a blank slate but she will live long enough to serve for fifty years or more. She will cook, sew and talk. In short he will get one who will work from morning till night. Finally the interviewer says that the applicant has no other option but marry her. Here we have used the word ‘she’ and ‘her’ for that is how we can address a woman but Plath has called the woman ‘it’ in the poem ‘The Applicant’.
This poem has forty lines spread over eight stanzas. There is no specific rhyme scheme but some stanzas have rhyming words and in some there are half rhymes like ‘crutch-crotch, salt –suit’. These rhymes, half rhymes with anaphora bring a lyrical tone to the poem. Anaphora is created by the repetition of ‘no, empty, proof and talk’.‘It can’ and ‘you have’ are repeated in the poem giving it a lyrical quality.Alliteration is seen in the line ‘Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch’. ‘The Applicant’ has contributed a lot to the debate on the role of a woman in a marriage and her conventional role. Sylvia Plath has aptly described the state of a wife with two words in this poem, ‘livingdoll’.