Meaning-Making Narratives Within a Puzzle of Parts: A Psychobiographical Sketch of Sylvia Plath


  • Angela F. Panelatti
  • Joseph G. Ponterotto
  • Paul J. P. Fouché


This study aimed to unveil Sylvia Plath’s (1932–1963) meaning-making narratives, within her life’s puzzle of parts, by utilising the Internal Family System (IFS) model of Schwartz. Plath was purposively selected as subject since she has been proclaimed as one of the most renowned and influential voices in 20th century Anglo-American culture and literature. Although she only published one collection of poems, “The Collosus”, and one novel, “The Bell Jar”, in her lifetime, the plethora of short stories, poems, journal entries and letters which were published after her suicide secured her status as a powerful and creative voice. Methodological strategies utilised to sort and integrate the wealth of publically-available socio-historical data on Plath included the analysis of psychobiographical indicators of salience according to the model of Irving Alexander and the data analysis matrix procedure of Robert Yin. Findings suggest that each stage of Plath’s life was characterised by “parts-led” functioning as a result of transferred burdens, imperfect care-taking, existential anxiety and traumatic emotional experiences. This resulted in polarisation of her different parts, which blocked the healing energy of her Self and aggravated feelings of worthlessness, in spite of her creative meaning-making narratives. Since Sylvia used her creative genius to address socio-historical issues and injustices, her life lends itself to meaning-making narratives, especially those that empower and inspire future generations of previously disempowered groups.