Subtitled “A poem for three voices”, Sylvia Plath’s poem “Three Women”, consists of three interweaved, interior monologues, contextualized by the setting, “A Maternity Ward and round about”. Three voices are present in the poem, belonging to the women of the title who are patients going through labor. Each of these women describes different feelings and views on giving birth, relating them to her personal experiences. By presenting such diverse emotions, Plath captures a substantial amount about women’s experiences of labor; provides a deeper glimpse into the minds of the patients. Using psychologically convincing imagery, an ambivalent tone and an intertwined structure, Plath conveys women’s feelings about birth, infertility and undesired pregnancy.
The feelings that the three women of the poem encounter are abstract and not necessarily tangible. Therefore, imagery is palpably utilized throughout the poem in order to emphasize and add volume to these feelings. The first voice for instance, describes her newly born baby as blue, furious, shiny and strange. All of the words she uses in describing her son can easily be perceived and therefore creates an image of the subject. This image, being ‘furious and angry’, reflects the woman’s frustrated mindset of that particular time. Another example of imagery is when the second voice describes her position as shadowy and dark. She thinks of herself as a shadow, ‘no woman nor man’. The darkness she accentuates in her description refers to her disappointment of herself and the fact that she is infertile. Consequently, because she is unable to give birth, she refuses to classify herself as human. By linking the abstract emotions with distinct descriptions, Plath blends the women’s feelings about labor, into the poem.
With the first voice being the strongest illustration, there is an obvious ambivalence in the tone of the poem. In the first two monologues of the first voice, two contradicting states of mind exist. In the first lines, the woman ‘is calm’ and ‘ready’ for what is about to happen: labor. However in time she gets fluctuations in her emotions and foresees an unpleasant event. She thinks of her calmness as the ‘calmness before something awful happens’, comparing herself to a ‘seed about to be break’. Nonetheless, her mood changes again after she holds her newly born son. She questions herself, asking what had her hands did before they held him and starts to think of birth as a holy act. This sudden shift in her feelings further establishes the ambivalence of the tone of the poem, underlining how frustrated a woman’s thoughts can be during the process of giving birth.
Having an unusual, intertwined structure, the poem exhibits the contradicting voices of three different women successively. This causes the poem to cover three different subjects: the process of labor, infertility and undesired pregnancy. These themes are displayed one after another in an unpredictable, random order. Having such an intertwined structure, the poem illustrates the different emotional aspects associated with pregnancy. This is clearly exemplified by the successiveness of the fourth monologues of voices one and two. The first voice in this monologue talks about the feeling of fulfillment that giving birth provides her with, stating that before she gave birth, ‘her hands and her heart’ did not have a particular purpose. The next monologue belongs to the second voice. She has had a miscarriage and feels exceedingly empty and purposeless. The fact that mindsets of such opposite ends are introduced one after another unanticipatedly, supports the ambivalent tone and also conveys the emotional complexity of pregnancy.
“Three Women” by Sylvia Plath, scrupulously describes the experiences of three different women in labor who have maintained different emotional positions. Through the utilization of convincing imagery, the emotional states of these women are transformed into tangible experiences. Furthermore, an ambivalent tone along with an intertwined structure is maintained in the poem. These two aspects of the poem, by substantiating one another, highlights the different feelings that come along labor, infertility and undesired pregnancy.