Plath in bikini? In black? Or posed on a pedestal?
We fail to recognize a phenomenological truism: The only person permitted to be three dimensional is me. Thus, people within my sphere of awareness are reduced to how I define them.
When we discuss Facebook threads criticizing how Plath is portrayed on book covers, we should remember that we witnessed a similar story unfold when politicians and pundits unloaded on athletes who refused to conform to the roles expected of them: patriotic, obedient, and silent. We pay them millions to be athletes, not to be political. Or so the tagline goes.
Writers create fictional worlds. Is it any wonder readers expect us to be fictions too?
It’s tempting to rail against reducing artists to two-dimensional characters, but we must first acknowledge that we reduce others to the roles we expect of them too. I’m not a fan of Plath. What I’ve read I respect. But I do know she was neither a character in a gothic novel or the pin-up blonde. She was a woman respected worldwide for her art who died during a battle with depression. Between those clauses were days of sunlight and joy, desperation, and moments so normal they would bore readers to tears.
A thousand painters, poets, and biographers will paint her a thousand different ways. We can pick at the individual portrayals or enjoy the emerging mosaic. I prefer the later.
I’m also sure she would rather we celebrate her words than focus on the person who wrote them.
We don’t pay them millions, of course. Advertisers pay them millions so we can watch them from our couches while we consume (it is hoped) the advertiser’s products.