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Is Sylvia Plath to blame for her son’s death?

May 8, 2009
Frieda, Sylvia, and Nicholas Hughes Plath

Frieda, Sylvia, and Nicholas Hughes Plath

February 11, 1963 – Sylvia Plath Hughes kills herself during London’s coldest winter in a century. Nicholas, just a baby, and Frieda, age 3, were asleep in the next room. Sylvia made sure they had milk at their bedsides before taking sleeping pills, sealing up the kitchen doors, turning on the stove, and gassing herself to death.

March 23, 2009 – Dr. Nicholas F. Hughes, age 47, follows in his mother’s footsteps 46 years later and hangs himself at his home in Alaska. Frieda reports he had suffered from depression for some time, though he had not inherited his mother’s mania. This tragedy inspires the question: Is Sylvia Plath to blame for her son’s death? Surely her own suicide had a powerful effect on him. Coline Covington of The First Post muses on the subject:

“Children whose parents have committed suicide – at no matter what age – tend to feel not only responsible for their parent’s depression and ultimate suicide but also profoundly rejected by them.In short, the parent who kills herself is perceived by the child as not loving him enough to want to live.”

It must also be noted that the Hughes-Plath children’s  step mother, Assia Wevill, also gassed herself in 1969, when Nicholas was 7 and Frieda was 9. Two mothers killing themselves the exact same way would be too much for many of us to handle.  Perhaps Ted Hughes had this effect on women?

Further investigations into the Plath and Hughes family mental health history would have to be conducted to come to a definite conclusion. Aurelia Plath, Sylvia’s mother, who died of natural causes in 1994, seemed stable enough. It would be especially helpful to know the mental state of Plath’s surviving child, Frieda. In an interview by David Burges for Time, Frieda states that she was shocked to find out the truth of her mother’s death at the age of 14 from a classmate. She also very truthfully tells us:

“You can analyze [my parents] as much as you like, but if you weren’t actually the people themselves . . . It’s interesting to me that people have been so interested in them.”

Today, she is a successful writer, like her mother. Will she too become victim to her family’s plague of suicidal depression? Probably not.

Burges: “If all this had happened to your mom now… do you think it would have resulted in her death? With modern pharmacology, could somebody have helped her?

Hughes: “I think there’s no doubt about that. The advancements in the past 30- or 40-odd years, are huge. I don’t believe there’s any way that that situation would have arisen now. She’d still be here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 24, 2009 3:57 pm

    Has anyone given any thought to the idea that maybe Assia killed herself in the same way as Plath becasue she saw how much fame came to Sylvia after her death?

    I’m almost wondering, here, if the trend is not so much a family one, but one more of wanting to be more LIKE Sylvia (adored by so many…)

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