Drowning in negativism, self-hate, doubt, madness: linguistic insights into Sylvia Plath’s experience of depression

Demjen, Zsofia (2014). Drowning in negativism, self-hate, doubt, madness: linguistic insights into Sylvia Plath’s experience of depression. Communication & Medicine, 11(1) pp. 41–54.

URL: http://www.equinoxpub.com/journals/index.php/CAM/a...

Abstract

This paper demonstrates how a range of linguistic methods can be harnessed in pursuit of a deeper understanding of the ‘lived experience’ of psychological disorders. It argues that such methods should be applied more in medical contexts, especially in medical humanities. Key extracts from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath are examined, as a case study of the experience of depression. Combinations of qualitative and quantitative linguistic methods, and inter- and intra-textual comparisons are used to consider distinctive patterns in the use of metaphor, personal pronouns and (the semantics of) verbs, as well as other relevant aspects of language. Qualitative techniques provide in-depth insights, while quantitative corpus methods make the analyses more robust and ensure the breadth necessary to gain insights into the individual experience. Depression emerges as a highly complex and sometimes potentially contradictory experience for Plath, involving both a sense of apathy and inner turmoil. It involves a sense of a split self, trapped in a state that one cannot overcome, and intense self-focus, a turning in on oneself and a view of the world that is both more negative and more polarized than the norm. It is argued that a linguistic approach is useful beyond this specific case.

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