Renée R. Curry: On "The Arrival of the Bee Box"

In "The Arrival of the Bee Box," Plath writes an omnisciently authorial and colonizing "I." The poem begins with the claim "I ordered this, this clean wood box." With this line, Plath introduces us to the speaker as commander and requistioner. The speaker imparts that the box is "locked" and "dangerous" and that she cannot see into it. In the third stanza, when she puts her "eye to the grid," the speaker discerns layers of blackness and darkness that she associates with "the swarmy feeling of African hands." At this moment in the poem, the box metaphorically becomes a vessel carrying slavelike creatures from Africa, "Black on black, angrily clambering." In the following stanza, the speaker, having somewhat adjusted to the visual aspects of the black on black creatures, proclaims that the noise they make appalls her. She describes their language as "unintelligible syllables" and expresses fear of them as a mass. In this role as white spectator of the Other, Plath's speaker expresses utter disgust with Otherness. She diminishes her fear of this threatening collective by assuring herself that "they can be sent back." After all, she asserts, these creatures are her commodities: "They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner." Annas reads this poem as one in which Plath explores the tensions that exist regarding one's fit in society (A Disturbance 145). I read the poem as one in which Plath experiments with the various roles endowed upon white peoples and thereby explores how she, as a white woman, best fits the various molds of whiteness.

Immediately upon having soothed herself by proclaiming her ownership of and, therefore, power over the black creatures in the box, she permits herself a moment of compassion in which she "wonders how hungry they are." In this white role, the speaker envisions herself as provider for Others. The next line swiftly undercuts her moment of tenderness by shifting the white role from that of caretaker to that of self-preservation. In this new role, the speaker wonders whether the black creatures would forget her should she set them free. Concern about their forgetting her suggests that she might want credit and homage for freeing them, and as well, she might want them to overlook her mistreatment of them. Upon wondering about their ability to disremember her, she suggests that they might be far more attracted to a laburnum, which she personifies as blond and female. In this white role, she vacillates between wanting credit for her liberal compassion and wanting the security of knowing that other, more superlative white women, the exotic blondes, exist to distract the black creatures away from desiring her.

In the last stanza, the speaker explores the ultimate white role, that of God: "Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free." Van Dyne suggests that in "Arrival of the Bee Box," Plath is "mimicking male hierarchies" and "toying with the freedom that male authority might bring" (Revising Life 151). Broe, too, recognizes Plath's play with power, but she claims that ultimately the speaker concedes to the power of the creatures when she promises in the last line that the box will be temporary (150). To my mind, the fact that the poem ends with the creatures still boxed and with freedom rescheduled for tomorrow does not signify a concession nor mere mimicry of male authority. The white female speaker in " Arrival of the Bee Box" displays a determined complicity of her own in prolonging the enslavement of black creatures.

Details

Criticism Overview
Title Renée R. Curry: On "The Arrival of the Bee Box" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Renèe R. Curry Criticism Target Sylvia Plath
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 29 Jan 2014
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication White Women Writing White: H.D., Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, and Whiteness
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