Of Mirrors and Bell Jars

Bonaser, C. (2019) ‘Of Mirrors and Bell Jars. Heterotopia and Liminal Spaces as Reconfigurations of Female Identity in Sylvia Plath’ Humanities 8(20): 2-16



The poetry of Sylvia Plath (1932–1963) has received a considerable number of critical responses, among which spatial analysis occupies a minor position, although her texts explore complex relationships between subject and context. Drawing from a threefold theoretical apparatus (Bachelard’s theory of the poetic space, the Foucauldian concept of heterotopia, and the trope of liminality), this article focuses on the analysis of Plath’s increasing use of in-between spaces and objects of transition and transformations (mirrors, thresholds, windows), as well as on her predilection for heterotopic and alienating sceneries (hospital rooms, cemeteries), in both her poetry and prose. The study first acknowledges Plath’s choice of spatial imagery as a progressive orientation towards transitional states and places of otherness and ambivalence. Then, it highlights the specific role of heterotopic and liminal spaces in the process of reconfiguration of female identity. Given the impossibility for the female subject to rely on imprisoning domestic spheres to suture the edges of her fragmented self, reconceptualization of her own consciousness only becomes possible in the movement across a threshold. The analysis finally determines that the poetic evocation of spaces of conflict and difference paradoxically contributes to the shaping of female identity.

Keywords: Sylvia Plath; poetic space; heterotopia; liminal spaces; female identity