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Anne Sexton

In: English and Literature

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Honors American Author Essay In an interview, Anne Sexton claims, “Poetry is my life, my postmark, my hands, my kitchen, my face.” (“Anne Sexton Quotes Quotable Quote”). This statement accurately describes Anne Sexton’s life considering she wrote approximately 14 books of poetry while she was alive. Anne Sexton was born on November 9th, 1928 in Newton, Massachusetts and died on October 4th, 1974 in Weston, Massachusetts and was also was most closely associated with the Confessional Movement of the early to mid 20th century. Anne Sexton’s dark, deranged, and personal thoughts fit perfectly with the other writers that took part in the Confessional Movement but her poem, “Young” takes her to her parallel universe that she so hopelessly wished she lived in. The poem “Young” by Anne Sexton was part of her book of poems, All My Pretty Ones which was published in 1962. Throughout some of her poetry, including “Young” it is not so obvious to see why she was part of the Confessional Movement. When one reads the poem “Young” it can easily be interpreted that it is about a lonely young girl on a starry summer night, lying outside on the grass, thinking about how she is transforming from a child into an adolescent. It also touches base on what she used to believe as a child and what she knows is real now. There is almost a sense of mourning when she realizes that her old thoughts are not what they seem, especially when she speaks of God. One can also conclude that she’s dealing with an internal struggle within herself when she realizes, once again that her thoughts and beliefs are not as accurate as they once seemed. Sexton demonstrates her theme by stating, “I, in my brand new body, which was not a woman’s yet, told the stars my questions and thought God could really see the heat and painted light, elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight” (Sexton 512). Without searching deeply for alternative themes, one can conclude that Sexton’s theme was one can never truly know how great and enchanting life can be when you are young until you are too old to appreciate its simplicity. In “Young”, Anne Sexton successfully uses a hyperbole to enhance her poem. A hyperbole is an over statement or an exaggeration. In the first two lines of the poem, Sexton writes, “A thousand doors ago / when I was a lonely kid…” (Sexton 512). Sexton uses the hyperbole to make her reader think back to a much earlier time. Instead of using more common phrases such as: “a long time ago, awhile ago, many years ago” Sexton wants to reel her reader in and put the idea in their head that it was a different era and a unique way of living. Additionally, many historical events throughout Sexton’s life affected the way she thought and affected the way her thoughts were written down, demonstrated in her poetry. Not only her, but many other writers such as Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, and Allen Ginsberg emerged with the same ideas as Sexton did. During World War II and even after, is where Sexton and these other writers began writing their famous works. Dealing with the death of thousands of Americans, one can imagine that Sexton could only be referring to simpler, more cheerful times like post-war America when she wrote “Young” (“History of the United States of America, Part Nine). After World War II many Americans were left broken, depressed, and suicidal from the war and the loss of loved ones. Although, it is not recorded that Sexton lost a loved one to the war, the depression that surrounded her life and clouded some of her poetry would lead one to think that. During the 1950’s and the 1960’s racism was taking America by storm and there was an outrageous number of violent acts toward African Americans throughout the country (“History of the United States of America, Part Nine”). Sexton could be also be using this as a reference when she wrote “Young” because as a child you are not necessarily concerned with the evil in the word, nor are you aware of it. During the 1960’s was also the growing role of the youth in America, but since Sexton did not live in a highly populated area and stated that she was lonely as an adolescent, she probably did not participate as much in that growth as she would have if she lived in a large city (“History of the United States of America, Part Nine”). World War II and the fight for civil rights all had an impact on Sexton’s poem, “Young.” The historical events and diverse culture of this time period is what drove Sexton to reminisce on her naïve, careful youthful self. Although much of Sexton’s poetry, seems very shallow and straightforward, there is a much more cynical and unhappy side to Anne that is not so easy to indentify through poems such as “Young.” When Sexton was younger, her mother accused her of plagiarizing some of poetry and insisted that it be examined, when it was deemed original, the tension between Sexton and her mother put a strain on their relationship. Later Sexton admits that she felt responsibly and guilty for this issue (Runco). Since “Young” was published much after this incident, a deeper meaning the poem could be that Sexton misses and dwells on the time that her mother and she had a normal and functional relationship. In her book of poetry, All My Pretty Ones which included “Young”, was published in 1962; Sexton’s parents died in 1960 which was another factor that drove her into depression. In “Young” she talks about her parents by saying,
“my mother's window a funnel of yellow heat running out, my father's window, half shut, an eye where sleepers pass…” (Sexton 512). This verse was a clear indication that the death of her mother and father was still looming over her head and she was thinking of a certain memory that was somehow significant to her even at the age of 46 when the poem was published. With this she began seeing the physiatrist three times a week instead of once (“Sexton, Anne”). Even though Sexton might have missed her mother, there is more evidence that she was distant and maybe even intimidated by her mother. In many of her poems besides “Young”, she refers to the mother characters from stories including: “Briar Rose” which explains the fear of a daughter going to bed because of the wicked mother, “Rapunzel” which accounts for a girl's willing entrapment by a seductive older woman, and “Snow White” in which a cold, neglectful mother is punished for mistreatment. Comparing writing with her psychotherapy, Sexton claims that “writing is like lying on an analyst’s couch, re-enacting a private terror…” (“Anne, Sexton). One could try and tie this quote back to “Young” and conclude that maybe her youth was not a time full of ease but a terror. In an excerpt to “Young”, she states that it an instance in her life, nothing more (Sexton 512). Throughout her life there were many influences on Sexton that affected her writing; Sexton focused on mainly negative influences considering she committed suicide in 1974 via carbon monoxide poisoning (Runco). Furthermore, Anne Sexton (1928-1974) was most closely related with Postmodernism, but more specifically, the Confessional Movement which took place during the early to mid 1900’s and lasted until the 1980’s. This time of writing came primarily after World War II. Other authors such as Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell were also involved in the Confessional Movement, which gave expression to painful personal events through the revelation of personal intimacies and unembarrassed self-exposure. With manifest destiny burning through all Americans and the growth of the country, it was an exciting time in America for most but these authors focused on their private experiences that dealt with their pain and suffering. Most of the authors during the Confessional Movement had psychological disorders that required medical attention (“Modern American Literature”). Anne Sexton’s “Young” demonstrates characteristics of the Confessional Movement because of the underlying meaning of the poem and the symbolism behind every word. It’s quite evident that Sexton would be part of the Confessional Movement considering she went to therapy and, even if not obvious, her depression was the reason for most of her writing. Sexton was fighting her own demons and was not embarrassed to freely express that (Runco). However, Bradley A. Skeen is a classics professor that is trying to determine if “Young” by Anne Sexton is truly part of the confessional poetry. Bradley explains that he believes that Sexton also suffered from confabulation. Confabulation is not necessarily classified as a “disease” but a disorder and inability to distinguish memories from actual events between fantasies and ideas. Skeen also questions if the scene she describes in “Young” is fiction or non-fiction. He has a hard time reasoning that such a depressed and twisted person such as Sexton could write something so innocent and simple, like a starring night one summer. It could be easy to see why one would agree with Skeen since she was declared mentally unstable by her physiatrist. Skeen concludes that the theme is one that deals with the separation of an old identity to begin a new one. He says that although the language seems straight forward, it is much more symbolic and allegorical than it comes off. It is not a report of Sexton’s life but a life that she created. She took one fictional memory, an instance in time that may or may not have happened and expanded it. It seemed the world stopped on that summer night and she cannot move beyond it. She used imagery to describe it and hyperbole to exaggeration the innocence and happiness of it. Sexton made the tone of the poem almost wistful and mournful because she is leaving her adolescence and moving into adulthood. For example, Sexton says “my mother's window a funnel of yellow heat running out, my father's window, half shut, an eye where sleepers pass…” (Sexton 512). She speaks of her parents as if they have a normal relationship, which throughout her interviews and biographies it becomes evident that that was not the case. I firmly agree with Bradley Skeen’s criticism of Anne Sexton’s “Young” and her poetry in general, she was not sane enough to know confidently that she was writing about her own life or the parallel world with which she believed she lived. In conclusion, Anne Sexton is one of the most well known authors when it comes to the Confessional Movement, whether she was writing about her own life or a fictional one she created within her own imagination, Sexton thoughts merge faultlessly with those of that time period. In her poem “Young”, one would probably never guess that Sexton was suicidal and clinically depressed, but as an old saying goes, “it’s not always what it seems.”

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