Burrowing Inward--and Outward: Identity, Materiality, and the Body in the Journals of Sylvia Plath and Susan Sontag

Open Access
Mccobin, Julianne
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • John Edmond Marsh, Thesis Supervisor
  • Lisa Ruth Sternlieb, Honors Advisor
  • plath
  • sontag
  • journals
  • genre studies
  • identity
  • materiality
  • body
  • gender
Critics and casual readers alike often approach the journals and notebooks of famous authors as secondary rather than primary texts, full of biographical information but not worthy of the same critical eye as more literary works. This thesis, however, reads the journals of Sylvia Plath and Susan Sontag as primary, literary texts, exploring the ways that the journals engage with questions of genre, writerly and personal identity, and the materiality of bodies and the journals themselves. I argue that Plath and Sontag seek to discover and construct their identity in their journals while also seeking to escape from categorization all together, and through this, their journals posit identity as a fluid rather than fixed concept, one that must be constantly re-created through language. In addition, the materiality of journals prompts authors to use varied modes of composition and to interact with the physicality of writing and of bodies, subverting traditional forms, challenging the distinctions between “high” and “low” subject matter, and bucking tendencies to romanticize descriptions of experiences and the body.