The Applicant by Sylvia Plath: A Profound Exploration of Consumerism and Identity

The Applicant by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath, known for her poignant and introspective poetry, delves into the complexities of human existence in “The Applicant.” Written in 1962, during a period of intense social change and burgeoning consumerism, the poem serves as a scathing commentary on the societal pressures to conform and commodify identity. Plath employs a unique blend of dark humor, vivid imagery, and incisive language to dissect the dehumanizing effects of a consumer-driven culture.

Structure and Tone:

“The Applicant” is a villanelle, a structured form of poetry characterized by its distinctive pattern of repetition. This pattern reinforces the themes of routine and conformity, mirroring the regimented nature of the subject matter. Plath’s tone oscillates between clinical detachment and biting irony, effectively highlighting the absurdity of the commodification of human relationships.

The Dehumanizing Machinery of Consumerism:

The poem opens with a portrayal of a mechanized world, where individuals are reduced to mere parts in a transactional process. Phrases like “A living doll” and “Tender juice of promise” evoke images of assembly lines and factory-produced goods. This imagery paints a bleak picture of a society that places little value on individuality and instead molds people to fit predetermined roles.

The Facade of Marriage:

Plath dissects the institution of marriage, presenting it as a transaction devoid of genuine emotion. The applicant is portrayed as a product, complete with “A dollar for your dream” and “A guarantee of company.” The juxtaposition of financial terminology with emotional intimacy exposes the transactional nature of the relationship. Plath highlights the hollowness of such unions, where the facade of companionship masks a deeper sense of emptiness.

The Absurdity of Gender Roles:

Plath critiques the prescribed gender roles and societal expectations placed upon individuals. The poem challenges the notion of traditional masculinity and femininity, portraying both as rigid and confining. The applicant is advised to assume the roles of both provider and nurturer, blurring the lines between traditionally defined gender roles. This serves as a poignant reminder of the limitations imposed by societal norms.

The Absence of Authenticity:

Throughout “The Applicant,” Plath employs a satirical lens to expose the artificiality of human interaction in a consumer-driven society. The poem suggests that genuine connection and emotional depth are overshadowed by superficial desires for conformity and security. The applicant is reduced to a series of quantifiable attributes, emphasizing the dehumanizing effects of such a system.

The Enigma of Identity:

Plath grapples with the question of individual identity in the face of societal pressures. The poem raises the existential dilemma of whether one’s sense of self is determined by external forces or genuine personal introspection. The applicant is presented with a series of prescribed identities, each one as confining and superficial as the last. This challenges the notion of authentic self-discovery in a world that favors conformity.

“The Applicant” stands as a searing critique of a consumer-driven society that reduces human relationships to transactions and identity to a series of predetermined roles. Plath’s incisive language and vivid imagery dissect the dehumanizing effects of such a culture, urging readers to confront the absurdity of societal expectations. In the face of conformity and commodification, “The Applicant” serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of genuine human connection and the need to preserve one’s authentic sense of self.