Mushrooms is a poem written by Sylvia Plath, an American poet in 1960. Sylvia Plath’s poems were mostly written in the 1950s to the 1960s, right after World War II. During WWII, most men went to war and women took the jobs that previously employed men. They enjoyed the experiences and opportunities they have got as well as the work with good pay. However, when the war ended, men came back and took back their jobs, women were fired and were only offered a limited amount of work opportunities. This, to a large extent, has caused the Second-wave feminism in which women demanded free contraception, 24-hour child care centres, abortion on demand and equal pay and opportunities between men and women. Under such a background, the poet wrote *Mushrooms*. The poem supports a feminist interpretation as it shows how women were unnoticed, they determination and strong spirit in supporting feminism and the hope that their situation could improve.
Firstly, the poem paints a realistic picture of women’s situations in the 1950s. Throughout the whole poem, “mushrooms” could be a symbol of women. Many figures of speech were used to demonstrate the plight of women in a patriarchal society, for example, how a woman was being treated: “Overnight, very Whitely, discreetly, Very quietly”. The three lines here use the “y” sound consonance, making the stanza lengthened and soft, possibly implying that women’s voices were soft and were usually ignored by people. This emphasises the idea that women in the 1950s were unheard and unnoticed in society. At the same time, women’s lives were also illustrated in the poem: “Diet on water, on crumbs of shadow”. Metaphor is used in the sentence, describing a woman’s life as mushrooms’. Water and shadow are the most basic food for fungi to consume, and the mushrooms have no right to choose anything better. Similarly, some women were provided with little or no opportunities and experiences that men had. Like mushrooms in the shades, women were held back at home, forced to do housework and were away from the sunlight. Therefore, a vivid picture of women’s situations in 1950 is illustrated in the poem.
Secondly, the poet conveys that women were determined to change their situation with their strong spirits. First, it is noticeable that there are five syllables in each line and three lines in every single stanza throughout the whole poem and this is never changed. The poet may be implying the unchanged goal of the women through the unchanged structure of the poem. Furthermore, in the third, eighth and the ninth stanza, the poet writes “sees us, Stops us, betrays us”, “So many of us! So many of us!” and “We are shelves, we are Tables, we are meek, we are edible” respectively. Repetition of the word “us” and “we” emphasises the idea that all the women were united together, seeing themselves as a whole and were working towards their common goal of acquiring women’s rights.
Thirdly, the poet expresses the idea that there was hope for women’s situation to improve even though women were rather quiet and their voices remained unheard. Throughout the whole poem, there are a lot of “F” and “T” sounds repeated in close proximity, for instance: “Soft fists insist on Heaving the needles”. This is the use of sibilance, and it could be an imitation of the sounds made by the mushrooms as they grow. Although mushrooms were unseen by people and seemed to be silent, they were still making sounds. This denotes that the voices of females were weak and didn’t result in significant effects in the short term, they could make a change, and there was still hope. Also, in the second stanza, the poet writes: “Our toes, our noses Take hold on the loam”. The word “loam” means fertile soil. Even though the mushrooms were unnoticed, it turned out that they were sprouting from flourishing soil and were acquiring air, everything seems to be more vivid and lively, and there was hope that these mushrooms could grow up. This indicates that it was possible for women to succeed, for their proposals to be noticed and for developments and betterments in their treatments in society.
As a conclusion, Mushrooms written by Sylvia Plath support a feminist interpretation. It shows women’s situations in society, the hope that women’s situations could be improved and women’s determination and strong spirit in supporting feminism.