Study Guide

Tulips Versions of Reality

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Versions of Reality

There are a lot of crazy images in "Tulips." Some are just apt poetic descriptions, like the nurses turning into seagulls. But many others are just plain strange. And most of those odd images have to do with the tulips. When the speaker starts talking about them, her images seem like they are coming out of some awful nightmare. We can't help but wonder what state of mind our speaker is in, and whether she's even in touch with reality anymore. Of course it's possible that she just has a very overactive imagination. Either way, reality is slippery in this poem – that much is for sure.

Questions About Versions of Reality

  1. Do you think the speaker in this poem has lost touch with reality? How can you tell?
  2. Do you think any of the strange images in the poem are rooted in actual reality? For example, do you think when the speaker talks about the sudden tongues of the tulips, she might be referring to something real (like, say, the petals)?
  3. If you had a friend who talked to you like the speaker in "Tulips" does, would you be worried?       
  4. Have you ever been sick and felt like you were living in a different reality for a while? Does Plath capture that experience here?

Chew on This

The speaker of the poem straddles the line between metaphorical imagery and hallucination, forcing the reader to question his or her assumptions about reality.

The narrator of "Tulips" goes through a complete mental breakdown. By tracking the changes in her imagery, the reader can watch her lose touch with reality and succumb to total psychosis.

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