Can you help me understand Sylvia Plath's poem 'Balloons'?

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Firstly, it is important to remember that everyone has difficulties interpreting poetry, and that postmodern poetry especially often holds an elusive, if not non-existent, meaning. The postmoderns loved to portray a fragmented world, and rejected theories of absolute truth... Don't be worried if the poem seems confusing at first: it will to nearly everyone who reads it!

The best way, therefore, to approach the poem once you've read it through, is to read it through again, but slowly, looking for points of contrast or tension. Bits of language that stand out to you are often useful. 

Some questions to consider to help you interpret the poem: 

- Does Plath make this poem deliberately confusing? If so, how?

- Picking evidence from the poem, what sort of effect do the balloons have on the voice of the poem? Is the presentation of the balloons consistent?

- Plath calls the balloons 'soul-animals'. What effect do you think this has on the way in which we interpret the popping of the balloon?

- When the balloon is popped, Plath depicts the boy as a 'fat jug / Contemplating a world clear as water.' Do you think Plath inclines the reader to think in a particular way about this new 'clear' world? Consider the effect of the objectification of the boy as a 'fat jug', and the way in which the balloons are generally described in the earlier stanzas.

We can go through these questions together, and hopefully come to some sort of conclusion on our attitudes to the poem.

Rob M. A Level English Literature tutor, Mentoring -Oxbridge Preparat...

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