Jun 25, 2018 in Research

Anne Sexton: Her Life and Works


This research paper on Anne sexton and her contribution to literature is organized as follows.

Introduction/Background: Talks about her date and place of birth as well as a few a few broad aspects of her life

Her work: This is a broad section that covers the work she did in writing. It is divided into the following sub-sections:

Tone, Style and Themes in her work

Themes in Her works

Relevance of her work


Talks briefly about the entire content of the paper.

Anne Sexton


Anne Sexton was born in 1928 in Newton; Massachussetts.Her life was not easy given that she suffered from a mental disturbance. She however struggled and made it through school and managed to get married and get children. Anne was a creative and talented lady (Wagner-Martin.para.1). This was evident in the way she led her life and while going through therapy under the care of her long term therapist, Dr.Martin Orne, he realized her immense literary potential. At first he had doubts about what he thought about her and her ability to participate in literary discourse. He was not sure whether it was genuine mental ability or a product of her mental disturbances.Al the same he made up his mind and told her to try her hand at poetry. She also felt a bit unsure at first but since she knew that she was indeed strong, she decided to give it a hand. She was able to attend literary conferences and seminars, some convened by respected names in the literary world such as John Holmes (Middlebrook 1-4).

There is so much controversy surrounding the life of Anne Sexton. She is said to have been abused while a child and this abuse may have contributed to the problems she was having with her mental health. The claims say that she was subjected to sexual abuse. Her relatives refuted this claim but her daughter, while being interviewed after Anne’s death said that Anne was a victim of sexual abuse by her mother when she was young. It is something that has not been confirmed but it is thought to have been a contributing factor in her poor mental health.Dr.Orne also arrived at similar conclusions but his method of getting this information from her was later dismissed as unacceptable. The anti-climax in the life of this great lady came when she took her own life at the tender age of forty five years. But she had left her footprints in the sands of time through her work of art.

Her Work

Anne was as talented as it has been claimed. She was extremely versatile and this is the reason as to why she was able to fit into more than one area of art. She was a poet, a novelist, a musician and a writer of children’s books. Her band that was a combination of cool jazz music and rock was named ‘Her Kind’ and it played the role if injecting music into her poetry. Those who listened to her sing have said that she had a golden voice that she never took serious.

In the world of writing, Anne did extensive writing. Some of it came out of her own creativity while some of it came from inspirational encounters she had with friends and family. For example after meeting W.D Snodgrass and reading his poem entitled The Heart’s Needle, she was highly touched. She went ahead to write her own poem which she gave the title The Double Image. Anne did so many other works and one of them, Live or Die that came out in the year 1966 went ahead to become the winner of the coveted Pulitzer prize in the year 1967.Her other works include 45 Mercy Street, published posthumously, Words for Dr.Y, also published posthumously, The Book of Folly, published in the year 1972, All My Pretty Ones, that came out in 1966, Transformations, that came out in 1971 and Love Poems that came out in 1969.

Other works include The Death Notebooks that was published in 1974, a play that had two acts and was performed by the American place theater in the year 1969 called Mercy Street, to Bedlam and Part Way Back published in 1960, a posthumous book entitled The Awful r owing Toward God, an undated work called Two Hands, Anne Sexton: A self Portrait in Letters, work that was produced after her death and No Evil Star that was also produced long after she had died.

Tone, Style and Themes in her work

The work that Anne Sexton did is highly enriching. It is rich in style and deals with both controversial and everyday themes in life. The tone shifts from work to work and this can be attributed to the versatility she had as a writer. The huge interest she had in life and the adventurous nature that she exhibited comes out in her work. A happy tone is however dominant in most of her works with sadness and indifference cropping up in some of the works where she may have succumbed to her digressional moments ,that engulfed her from time to time.

In terms of style, we can look at her works using style from two different perspectives. The first perspective is the genre in which she was writing. Anne was a multi talented literary figure who put her hand into a wide variety of genres. She has a play to her credit. The play that was performed by the American place theater entitled Mercy Street was her work. She is also credited with having explored prose as well through her incomplete novel that she began writing in the 1960s.Her entry into music is also documented and she was able to write a number of songs that took the format of verse, believed to be the effect of her too much immersion into poetry.

Apart from the above, there is one genre or field that she is believed to have dedicated much of her life to. This is the genre of poetry and most of her work is in this area. She was able to write a big number of poems in the 1960s through early 1970 till the time of her death. This is a testimony to the fact that she was a highly talented writer with the rare ability to adjust and put her hand in whatever writing style that was in the marketplace. The other point that needs to be made clear is that her style of poetry has been given a unique classification. It is called confessional poetry and she is credited as the only poet who has paid much of her poetic time into this genre of poetry.

The second perspective of style is the employment of stylistic devices that she employed in her works. Anne seems to have understood her work well. Much of her work makes use of the prominent and well known stylistic devices, a fact that is undeniable after one has taken time to look at her work with adequate care. In a general sense, it is not difficult to spot the imagery in the title Transformations, as used as the title for one of her works. It is an appropriate image that refers to the new identities that people take up when change or social dynamism affects them. Her other works, when analyzed at a deep and individual level reveals this fact. To confirm this, a light examination of a small part of her long poems, Double Image makes a big statement concerning the stylistic ability of this literary icon. Below is the first stanza of the poem, Double Image.

I am thirty this November.

You are still small, in your fourth year.

We stand watching the yellow leaves go queer,

Flapping in the winter rain.

Falling flat and washed. And I remember

Mostly the three autumns you did not live here.

They said I'd never get you back again.

I tell you what you'll never really know:

all the medical hypothesis

that explained my brain will never be as true as these

struck leaves letting go. (American Poems).

Is it hard to notice the styles in this poem? Definitely no. The rhyme is obvious. Thoroughly arranged with a clear scheme “……November……remember…….queer and year, rain and again…”There is also the usage of metaphor. Line 11 “….struck leaves letting go..” is used metaphorically to refer to the small or little impact that her mental problems had on her life after people had told her that it was going to make her worse.Instead,it just caused minor problems and then she emerged out of it okay. Apart from rhyme and metaphor, the persona in the poem (the voice or the person who is speaking in the poem) is straightforward about having problems with the mental challenges he or she is facing. It is quite ironical that you can get someone admitting so openly that they are mentally challenged for whatever reason. Most of them always hide so as to avoid prejudiced treatment from the public. This is a stylistic device called irony. Given that we know who the poet is, it is very possible that she is the one speaking in this poem. She is the voice in the poem or the persona.

The example above is just one of her works. The styles are varied and appropriate in the places she has applied them.

Themes in Her Works.

The themes that Anne Sexton has covered in her works also vary a great deal. They seem to have gotten affected by the people around her, her mental condition and the contemporary issues in life. The following is a comprehensive list of the themes covered in her works: Adultery and family breakdown, abortion, derepression, suicide, masturbation, menstruation, isolation, feminism, youth, socialization and love. She also deals with marriage and role confusion in a changing society as well as modernity and the clash of cultures as a result of the sex revolution of the 1970s and the 1980s.It is also important to include other themes such as death, domestic violence, health care and medical ethics that appear in some of her works and are part of her life.

Given the condition of her mind, Anne is to some extent unconsciously able to display a bias for such themes as depression, isolation and suicide (Famous Poets and Poems, para 2). After doing her work entitled The Awful Rowing Toward God, she is said to have requested that the work be published after her death. She gets depressed from time to time and when it exceeds, she is treated by Dr.Orne, the person who later suggested that she begins pursuing poetry. The depression leads to such problems as isolation that affect her in real life and she gives them to some of her characters.

Relevance of her work

The work that was done by Anne Sexton is quite relevant in modern society. Given the time when it was dome, which was in 1960s and the early1972s, the works are relevant today as they were during the time they were written. It is even possible that the works will continue to be relevant for quite some time into the future. This is possible given the nature of the subjects and themes she covered in her work.

As a way of looking as some of the themes she covered in her work and connecting to the current society in terms of relevance, the theme of love is as old as the earth. Shakespeare covered the theme of love in his old play; Romeo and Juliet but it is relevant today despite the time that has passed since the play was written. On the same note, Anne has covered this theme in her poem collection entitled, Love Poems. This is not something that is likely to become meaningless to society anytime soon. People will continue to get inspired by the ideas she expresses in these poems on the big theme of love (Sexton 41).

Leaving the above aside, all of us live in a society. It is not possible that any writing that has the theme of society or family life can become irrelevant at any one time. Anne deals with the theme of family life to a great extent. When she misses her daughter for some time, she meets W.D Snodgrass, who shows her a poem he has written, which in turn inspires her to write a poem to her daughter whom she has been separated from for some time because of her mental condition. The poem is entitled The Double image and in line 2 of the first stanza she tells her daughter, “you are still small in your fourth year….”She also deals with this theme in so many other works as well.


From the work she did before taking her own life, Anne Sexton proves that we can have women who can do great things in literature. She does a great amount of writing resulting in a high number of works. The great number does not dilute the quality. This is confirmed by the content in these works and the appreciation she gets by winning the Pulitzer Prize, an award that confirms that her work is indeed exemplary and outstanding. She also employs great style in her work and styles such as rhyme, irony, narration, metaphor, symbolism and imagery are fully utilized in her works. Her rare talent is demonstrated by the wide variety of areas of art she is able to venture into. She writes plays, she does music, she writes a novel, she writes poems and she writes essays. She also writes children’s literature. Besides the wide genre selection, she is able to adequately deal with a huge number of themes, most of which will be relevant to society deep into the future. She covers death, family life and depression, issues that modern man has to struggle with every day, with or without scientific progress. Above all, she leads a life of the girl next door, who has human problems like getting sick, seeking medication, having a scuffle with the husband or boyfriend and getting depressed once in a while when things seem to be going uphill. This is a great artist, a literary gem and an inspiration that death took away so fast and is so sad a manner.

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