Study Guide

Tulips Isolation

By Sylvia Plath

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I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly (3)

Some of the speaker's ideas about happiness don't seem all that well-adjusted to us, but there is something oddly appealing about this quiet, meditative space she's in. It's also the perfect set-up for the crazy tulip stuff at the end, because it makes the tulips' intrusion all the more invasive.

My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks. (20-21)

Most people worry about being alone, about not having a family to turn to in hard times. But this speaker is not most people. Her family portrait, like the tulips, is interfering with her precious alone time.

I am a nun now, I have never been so pure. (28)

Nuns are supposed to live peaceful and calm lives, separated from the world. They can't get married or have children. One of the things our speaker wants to get away from is the attachment to her family (20-21), so being a nun probably sounds like a good deal to her.

I didn't want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. (29-30)

The speaker's problem isn't that she's alone: it's that she doesn't feel alone enough. But for Pete's sake lady, whoever gave you those flowers was only trying to be nice!

They concentrate my attention, that was happy 
Playing and resting without committing itself. (55-56)

Oh, so <em>that's</em> the problem with the tulips: they give the speaker's mind something on which to focus. They force her to pay attention to her surroundings. The things that tie us to the world give our lives meaning, but they also hold us down, and this is a woman who definitely doesn't want to be tied down.

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