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Tulips

Tulips

by Sylvia Plath

Freedom and Confinement Theme

Here's the big question: is the speaker in "Tulips" totally trapped, totally free, or somewhere in between? She's certainly physically confined, stuck in her hospital bed. At the same time, she's experiencing a kind of mental freedom in the sense that she has figured out how to escape from things that have always trapped her. But then again, those tulips keep thwarting her. It's almost as if she knows how to be free, but she can't quite bring herself to get there. It's a tricky line she's walking, and we think that's part of what makes the poem so gripping. Where will she end up?

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. How do you think our speaker would define freedom? Where in the poem does she give us clues to help us answer this question?
  2. Do you think the freedom she's searching for is good or bad? Is there even such a thing as a bad kind of freedom?
  3. Where in the poem does our speaker seem most free? Where does she seem the most trapped?
  4. Do you remember the moment in your life when you felt the most free? How about the moment when you felt most confined? Do Plath's descriptions of freedom and confinement resonate with you?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In the final moments, the speaker finds a kind of comfort that's even better than total freedom. She accepts her confinement in her own body, and draws strength from that experience.

The speaker of "Tulips" can never find freedom, because she's just too emotionally disturbed.

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