Study Guide

Ariel Transformation

By Sylvia Plath

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On its surface, "Ariel" is about a wild horseback ride. But when we read just a little bit more closely, we see that the poem is interested less in the actual horseback ride and more in the transformation that happens within the speaker as she's on that horse. The speaker transforms from a woman who tries to hold onto Ariel for dear life, to a woman who summons the power of the horse and who is no longer afraid to lose her grip. She finds freedom in this transformative experience, and learns to channel the wild energy of Ariel. We're not gonna lie: we're a little jealous of the speaker's crazy and transformative ride. We'd kill to be "at one" with a horse, our surroundings, and everything.

Questions About Transformation

  1. What is the root of the speaker's transformation? Is it Ariel herself? Is it the galloping ride? Did the ride change the speaker, or did it just let loose something that was always inside her? What parts of the poem give you your ideas?
  2. Do you see the speaker's transformation as a good or bad thing? What's your rationale? 
  3. Why is the speaker's transformation couched in such morbid terms? What's deathly about her transformation?

Chew on This

The speaker's experience is transformational in a good way (as opposed to kind of transforming that happens in those really bad Transformer movies). She lets go of her "dead stringencies" and embraces her life.

Actually, it's not all high-fives and lollipops. The speaker's experience is transformational in a negative way, which is why the language of the poem is so morbid; her true self has died at the end of the poem. Bummer.

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