Ways Of Thinking Cold War

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How the poetry of Sylvia Plath and ONE other related text of your choice encapsulate binary metaphors of the Cold War era. Governing the post war era was a cloud of irrevocable anxiety that loomed over the world cripplining society into a state of powerlessness and universal disillusionment. This climate of anxiety gave rise to composers in the after the bomb context, who grappled with the resultant emergence of new paradigms and newly established self-questioning. Sylvia Plath’s poetry in Ariel and Raymond Briggs When the Wind Blows explore the nuances of the dichotomies of an uncertain era, in particular the binary opposites of growth vs decay and rejection vs acceptance of authorities. Molded by the pattern of perpetual angst, both texts provide commentary on the cold war era, in particular faith in higher powers. The dichotomy of rejection versus blind acceptance of authorities encapsulates the myriad of post-war struggles. Plath’s poetry is tinged by the philosophical experience of the war, thus mimicking the tensions and vulnerabilities contingent to the era.

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In an akin manner, Briggs, When the Wind Blows is a highly satirical visual parable that criticizes the unwavering faith in authority and individual powerlessness within society. Through an ironic comic book format, Briggs utilises subversive visual devices to evoke a negative sentiment from the reader that resonates the philosophical paradigms of the era where society has either a blind faith in authorities, or similar to Plath, depicts the rejection of authorities leading to a secular society. Jim follows the government issued brochure “Protect and Survive”, having an optimistic attitude and an ingrained belief that the government has the geopolitical situation under control whilst Hilda carries on life with her foible and asinine idiosyncrasies in the midst of planetary genocide.

For example she states “You can wear your old clothes for the bomb and save the best for afterwards.” Jim, without questioning the consistent reliability of political agendas states “Well, they say you should get into a paper bag just before the bomb goes off…I suppose it’s like the white paint. It er… deflects the heat a bit.” The guidance the couple accepts to whitewash the windows is directly from the pamphlet “Advising the Householder” which refers to historical advice distributed by the British government around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963. Briggs exhibits the scarcity of preparation procedures and the naïve credence of civilians. The Bloggs, acting as a microcosm for society were falsely mislead, having fervent trust in their government, believing they would shield them from possible annihilation, without questioning reliability of political agendas and the perceived expendability of individuals within society. This is evident through malapropism when Jim states ‘ultimate determined’ when it should be ‘ultimate deterrent’.

Thus, Briggs encapsulates societies passivity and unwavering faith in authority throughout the cold war epoch. In a binary manner, the rise in existentialist philosophy and nihilism regarding the futility of life in the cold war epoch provided a pervasive sense of anxiety and newly established self-questioning, challenging traditionally ingrained values. Similarly, at the core of Sylvia Plath’s poetry is the personal trauma of the cold war era and the oppression under patriarchal rule. Daddy, by Plath bitterly explores her unresolved conflict with paternal totalitarian authority and the liberation of rejecting hegemonic figures. Plath had witnessed some of the most heartless atrocities in history, all at the hands of men, causing her to embody the men that conducted these events within the image of her father which was lodged in childhood. The antithesis in the innocent nature of the nursery rhyme against satanic metaphysical and physical figures including Hitler and Dracula convey her desire for security within a paternal figure which is only fulfilled by evil. Plath’s poetry is a product of the loss of religious faith within her era.

The motif of black and macabre, Godless imagery including metonymic war symbols represent her questioning of God and ultimate theocentric rejection. This is evident in “so black no sky could squeak through”. Likewise in Plath’s poetry, red is a symbol of life and rebirth and in ”bit my pretty red heart in two” paired with the elusive and dark incongruous, womb like setting and infantile rhyme of the poem alludes that she is moving towards a symbolic spiritual rebirth by figuratively rejecting all authorities in her life including her father, husband and God and suggesting that, in line with existentialism, that the world is devoid of certainty. No answers, no fixed beliefs. Plath’s callous and derisive representation of marriage as a commercial transaction as opposed to one of emotional fulfilment mirrors post war society and its materialistic culture that replaced emotional connection, freedom and identity. Plath’s way of thinking satirises the conflicted and void role of women in the post-war economy. Plath depicts the decay of individualism within a stagnant society stunted by economic prosperity where consumerism is the solution to a social disease of capitalist ideologies. The caustic language of advertising encapsulates the emptiness of American consumerist values and the emotional depravity of a cookie cutter society in addition challenging the social doctrine of domestic confinement.

The insistent, typical American ad like rhythm sustained throughout the poem typifies the emotional decay of fanciful desire and spiritual tendencies, with marriage pragmatically expressed as a means of material gain. Plath implies a psychological degradation of the post Cold War society in “Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch”, which implies that materialism, in this case mechanically detached and counterfeit body parts compensates for a loss of compassion and emotion, echoing the consumerist culture that arose during the aftermath of the Cold War era. Plath mocks the rituals of anniveriers by presenting them as economic investments and goes on to say “We make new stock from the salt”, which aptly suggests the industrial-like nature of marriage where nothing is wasted and profit is paramount. In addition, Plath ridicules the status quo of women as a commodity who are pliable, obsequious and subservient. This resonates through the synecdoche of “hand” and depersonalised repetition of the monosyllabic “it” that women are reduced to. “Hand” is not only a metaphor for marriage and the unity of a couple but also is only a snippet of a complete person symbolising her utilitarian role of serving a man and merely as a new possession and the cyclic nature of spending, where desire for goods can never be satisfied. Plath’s biting satire of marriage offers insights into the notion that consumerism has quite literally consumed all individuality, leaving society decaying in the midst of societal dystrophy. Plath introduces the binary notions of economic growth and the resultant decay of liberal individualism. In a parallel manner, Briggs imbues the binary opposites of scientific growth which is in direct antithesis to the decay of the physical world and resultant fractured sense of identity in a world where instant annihilation to the point of vestige is imminent. Briggs encapsulates the ignorant passivity regarding what society believes is advancement through the character Jim, who states regarding bombs that “the powers that be are making much better ones now.

Science has leaped forward with giant strides”, thus, elucidating the ironic pride of nuclear superiority and satirising the notion that to inflict oblivion on another nation is an example of progress when it is clearly a moral regression. Briggs collectively utilises the futile and dull imagery of a submarine, missile and airplane to represent water, land and air which are the three elements of earth, alluding to the idea that there is no escape from the moral and physical decay of advancing nuclear technology. Plath and Briggs inextricably echo the status quo of the post war epoch and the variety of binary discourses, in particular the binary opposites of growth vs decay and rejection vs acceptance of authorities that shape the era. Both texts are nuanced with a pervasive climate of anxiety, reflecting the after the bomb contemporary ways of thinking of the authors and the dynamics of the world from which their texts emerged.

07 September 2020

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