I Have a Violence in Me: Gender, Violence, and The Unreal in Maggie Nelson and Sylvia Plath

Thumbnail Image


Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Maggie Nelson and Sylvia Plath are female writers with commendable careers. Their work explores similar themes of physical violence and gender, and their confessional writing styles are each marked by a frank narrative voice. Nelson and Plath’s propensity to participate in similar literary habits, and the fact that Nelson wrote her undergraduate thesis on Plath, illustrates how these writers are prime for scholarly comparison (Rowbottom). This paper will examine Nelson’s nonfiction piece, The Red Parts, and her prose-poetry collection, Jane: a Murder (and to a lesser degree her essay, The Art of Cruelty). It will also examine Plath’s poetry collections The Colossus and Ariel. Because it is more contemporary, Nelson’s work has received less attention from scholars than Plath. This paper will spend more time addressing her writing as a result. By conducting a literary analysis of the primary texts, this paper investigates manifestations of violence in the male and female figures in the works of Nelson and Plath. Comparing these authors allows connections to be drawn between the themes of gendered violence in their work: specific violence (violence that seeks a specific object) and general violence (violence that seeks a nonspecific object). A close reading shows that female expressions of violence in the primary texts occur in non-real frameworks (i.e. non-realities such as the imagination, dreams, fantasies, etc.). It also clarifies how Nelson and Plath combat this dynamic with instances of female violence that resist the limitations of frameworks.



Violence, Nelson, Maggie, Plath, Sylvia, Gender, Writing, Poetry, Prose, Autobiography, Freedom, The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial, Jane: a Murder, The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, The Colossus, Ariel, Brutality, Male violence, Specific violence, General violence, Female violence, Gendered violence, Frameworks, Fantasy, Unreality, Imagined violence, Unreal violence, Murder, Research Subject Categories::HUMANITIES and RELIGION::Aesthetic subjects