Study Guide

Metaphors Quotes

  • Women and Femininity

    A melon strolling on two tendrils. (3)

    Put together the large curves of the melon and the slender curves of the tendrils, and you've got a pregnant woman. It's not the most flattering comparison, but for Plath's purposes, it's just right.

    O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers! (4)

    In a poem full of metaphors about pregnancy, this line is more than little disturbing. All of these things are highly valued: elephants are poached; forests are illegally logged for fine timbers; and red fruit is something we'd like to snatch off a tree and eat. This is how, our speaker seems to say, some men think about women. Thinking about a pregnant woman as something to be desired and valued like any object is not very warm and motherly—we think it's kind of creepy.

    This loaf's big with its yeasty rising. (5)

    Here Plath's playing on the typical association of women and the kitchen. That old stereotype of women baking delicious bread for their families is turned on its head—now it's the babies that she's providing.

    Money's new-minted in this fat purse. (6)

    Again, we see pregnant women as commodities, items of value. But the comparison gets more awkward and unfortunate when you remember that "purse" can be used as slang for a vagina, especially for a prostitute's vagina, because that's how they make their money, or fill their purse.

    I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf. (7)

    Now the speaker is coming straight out and saying that she feels used—she's just a means, a way to get to an end, a stage in someone's master plan. Perhaps most degradingly, she compares herself to a cow in calf. No one wants to think of themselves as a big smelly pregnant cow—but our speaker dares to. Why? Probably to illustrate just how used she feels, as if she's livestock rather than a human being.

    I've eaten a bag of green apples, (8)

    The speaker sounds a little guilty in this line, which reminds us of the female famous for eating fruit that she wasn't supposed to—Eve. And remember, part of Eve's punishment was the pain of childbirth.

  • Appearances

    An elephant, a ponderous house, (2)

    These lines establish the size of the woman's appearance: absolutely humongous. We could even say elephantine. Of course, we know that pregnant women aren't actually the size of elephants and houses, but for this woman, that's what her dramatic change in size feels like.

    A melon strolling on two tendrils. (3)

    Now that the whole elephant and house thing has given us an idea of the huge size of this speaker's appearance, we get an image of how disproportionate and awkward she is. She feels as if she's huge, like a melon, around the middle, and as thin as two tiny curling vines everywhere else. Sounds precarious, no?

    This loaf's big with its yeasty rising. (5)

    Again, we get an image of largeness. It's weird that, throughout this poem, a pregnant woman is compared to something we'd like to eat, like red fruit or a fresh loaf of bread. Abundance, this poem seems to say, can be attractive. Unless you are that abundant thing.

    Money's new-minted in this fat purse. (6)

    The word fat is used to refer to a purse, but since purse is a metaphor for our pregnant speaker, this means that she considers herself to be fat. This is the most negative word we've seen used to describe the speaker's large size so far in this poem. But hey, at least she's getting straight to the point.

    I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf. (7)

    Sometimes, mean people call large, ugly woman "cows." Jumping off from the negative word, "fat," in the prior line, we are starting to feel less and less positive about the abundant belly of our pregnant speaker. When she's a melon, or a ripe red fruit, we can see her large size as pretty, but thinking about her as a cow in calf is not quite flattering.

  • Versions of Reality

    Metaphors (Title)

    The title of this poem establishes the alternate reality right from the start. As soon as we read the title, we know we're dealing with the figurative, or metaphorical, in this poem, and not the nitty-gritty real world. But the cool part about this alternate version of reality is how it can change the way we think about the real world, too.

    I'm a riddle in nine syllables, (1)

    This line continues the warning of the title—don't take me as real, it suggests, I'm a riddle. Yet it doesn't say "just" a riddle. This poem, despite masking what it's really talking about through metaphors, still has something to say about the real world.

    A melon strolling on two tendrils. (3)

    Here's an example of what the metaphorical world of the poem looks like. This poem is in a world where melons can stroll on top of two tendrils, or vines. Fruit and plants can take on human characteristics. Yet, remember, this fruit is actually just being used to make us think of pregnant women in a different way. This leaves us to wonder if it's the melon who's become personified, or the person who's become fruit-ified.

    Boarded the train there's no getting off. (9)

    This line helps to continue the world of the poem even after we've stopped reading. Presumably, this train is headed somewhere, but we're left to wonder where it's going. Also, this line demonstrates the difference between the metaphorical poem, where an actual train is chugging along, and the story behind the metaphors, where a woman is unable to change the direction her life is going in.