Analyzing Cut

‘Cut’ was written by Sylvia Plath, in 24th October 1962, and was dedicated to Susan O’Neill Roe, who would take care of her kids.

The first 2 stanzas express the thrill that the author feels, of cutting one’s thumb, instead on an onion. As seen with many of her poems, the ending of the first stanza, continues into the second stanza. The last 2 lines of the first stanza continue onto the first 3 lines of the second stanza, working to create a flow, and a connection between the two stanzas. This long statement is immediately followed by a short, precise statement. This contrast serves to put attention on the Red plush. She describes the thumb, saying “What a thrill— My thumb instead of an onion, the top quite, except for a sort of hinge” which continues to the second stanza: “Of skin, a flap like a hat, dead white. Then the red plush.” Here, imagery is used, with first the image of a flap of skin, where her thumb was, and the second image, being the use of the colours, to highlight the differences between the dead thumb, and the blood. The flap of skin, or the ‘hinge’ is ‘dead white’, while the blood described as a ‘red plush’, which makes the blood seem lively and on the move, which is the opposite of the dead white.

The contrast between the blood and the flap, or the red and the white, is taken forward and repeatedly addressed to, through several images, and referrals to different wars that took place, and in each situation shows the ‘red’ defeating the ‘white’. This connects Plath’s cut, to the wars around the world, from wars in the American history, to the WW2.

In the 3rd stanza, the imagery of Indian (or, the Red Indian) and the little pilgrim (who were ‘white’) is used, where the little pilgrim has his scalp axed, by the Indian. The pilgrim, being white, represents the thumb, and Plath uses personification, to show the ambiguity she feels towards the thumb, as she refers to the thumb, as another individual altogether.

The 4th stanza is, unlike all the other stanzas, 10 lines long , and shows how the author clutching pink fizz, which could mean both medicine and champagne. This goes straight to the lines “a celebration this is”, which implies that Plath doesn’t really know how she should react to the cut, as she’s celebrating the spill of blood, and yet, she’s trying to halt the flow. The pink fizz itself could also mean the blood itself, as any fizz, will flow out of the bottle, like the blood, out of the thumb. This is ironic, as the fizz cannot be contained within the bottle itself, but is being used to try and halt the bleeding. The lines “out of a gap a million soldiers run, redcoats, everyone. Whose side are they on?” This again portrays Plath’s confusion as to how she should react. There is also the mention of the Redcoats, which personifies the blood, and highlights the colour red, but it also shows how Plath cannot stop so many soldiers, and the bleeding doesn’t stop. The Redcoats, also mean the British army, and they are put up against the “kamikaze men”, or the Japanese. The war now being mentioned is the WW2, and though the Japanese are not mentioned through the colour white, they are shown to represent the dead thumb, as refers to the kamikaze men as the homunculus, or a tiny human. Plath had also referred to the thumb as a little pilgrim, and in both these referrals, the thumb is shown to be a separate (and small) individual. Plath also mentions that she’s taken a pill to kill the thin papery feeling. This papery feeling could be the feeling of the dead skin on the remainder of her thumb.

The kamikaze men, in the 5th stanza, are combined with the Gauze Ku Klux Klan and their Babushka. The babushka is traditionally Russian, and the combination of different figures, from the WW2, could serve to also highlight the various links between countries, during WW2. The Ku Klux Klan, were a terrorist group in the southern part of America, who were against immigrant, like Roman Catholics, Jews, Blacks etc, and this is perhaps an attempt to link the terrorist group, to the Axis group, where Germany too, had wished to eliminate the minor races. Plath continues, saying that the “Babushka darkens when the balled pulp of your heart confronts its small mill of silence.” The blood, instead of flowing, is now in droplets, indicating that the bleeding has now, nearly stopped, and that the small mill of silence, is the babushka. This effectively puts an end to the ‘wars’ taking place.

The last stanza shows a sudden shift in tone, with the words “How you jump— Trepanned veteran, Dirty girl, thumb stump.” This also shows how Plath comes back to the reality, realising that her bleeding has stopped, and with the bleeding, her fascination and joy for the cut, also stops. Plath seems to know how happy she felt, because of the cut, and now being in her senses, is disgusted with herself. She scolds herself, saying “Dirty girl, Thumb stump.”


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