2 Sylvia PlathPrimarily known as a poet, Sylvia Plath also wrote short stories and a novel, The Bell Jar.She was born in America in Her father died when she was eight. She was a high-achieving student and went on to teach English to university students. Her own writing was usually about illness, suffering and death. She was ambitious and drove herself hard, while apparently wanting to keep up an image of making everything she did seem 'as easy as pie'. She met and married theEnglish poet Ted Hughes and they hada daughter and a son, but the strain ofthe pressure she put on herself wastoo great, and she committed suicidein London in 1963.
3 The story is set in the winter of 1941 The story is set in the winter of On December 7th, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. After this attack, America was forced to enter World War Two.The narrator is shocked to see gruesome images of Japanese prisoners who were being tortured by having no food or water when she goes to the movies after Paula Browns' birthday party.The Japanese were notorious for treating their prisoners badly. Some reports published after the war include horrific facts. For example, prisoners were:forced to march over fifty miles with no food or waterstruck at with rifles, bamboo or anything that could inflict painbeheaded for the smallest thingsfed only just over 100 g of wateryrice a dayherded into trains and often diedof dehydration.During one forced march,men died in two weeks.
4 The deliberate cruelty of the Japanese towards their prisoners is reflected in the story when Sheldon Fein tortures insects and when Paula Brown blames the narrator for spoiling her snowsuit.Can you think of other reasons why the War makes a good backdropfor the story?
5 PLOTIn the first paragraph of the story, we learn that the story is set in winter, in the 'year the war began', which was thirteen years before. World War Two began in Europe in 1939, but the USA didn't enter until 1941, so we have to imagine the story was written in 1954 or 1955.It is told by an anonymous narrator, who is recounting her own experiences. Because it is written in the first person, we are given access not only to the events that took place, but to all her thoughts and feelings regardingthem.
6 What actually happens in the story? Watch the story build up - . We hear about the narrator's love of flying. She watches planes at night, makes up adventures about Superman, and dreams about flying.She plays games involving Superman with a friend at school and ignores all the other students.War is declared. Her beloved Uncle Frank listens to war news and waits to be drafted. So far the narrator doesn't seem to be worried by the war.She is invited to Paula Brown's birthday party. At the movies after the party, she sees a film showing Japanese soldiers mistreating prisoners of war, and is so horrified she's physically sick.She is asked by Paula Brown to join a game of tag, just to make the numbers up.When Paula slips on some oil and spoils her new snowsuit, Paula blames the narrator - who is innocent.No one believes the narrator when she denies pushing Paula, not even Uncle Frank.She is very depressed and feels completely alone. She has lost her trust in people close to her and the world as a whole. Suddenly, she has grown up.
7 CHARACTERSSuperman and Paula Brown are not the main characters of the story, but they do have key roles in it. The main character tells us the story - she is the narrator - yet we don't even know her name.Look at each of the characters featured here, and think: what are they like? What part do they play in the story? How does the narrator feel about them?NarratorShe is anonymous - this gives her a sense of mystery but also gives us an intimacy with her. You may be tempted to think of the narrator as Sylvia Plath as a young girl, but you should resist this. This is fiction,not autobiography!
8 At the start of the story, she lives in her own intense dream world At the start of the story, she lives in her own intense dream world. She is fascinated by flying and almost believes Superman could teach her to fly. She plays superman games with her friend David.Her father has died and she idealises her Uncle Frank. Superman and Uncle Frank are bound together in her mind.Gradually, she becomes affected by the war. She is physically sick when she see graphic pictures of the horrors of the Prisoner of War camps. Superman can't save her from nightmares.She is at first powerless when accused by Paula Brown, then becomes isolated and a target. Everyone turns against her.After this, her usual comforts of home and Uncle Frank do not work, although she pretends she's fine.When her mother and Uncle Frank appear not to believe her story, she leaves the light room and chooses somewhere dark to hide and think.This shows how everything has changed for her. Shehas lost her childhood world of innocence (light)and has entered the cruel, dark 'real' world.
9 MotherAnxious - she believed her daughter should have lots of sleep.She worried about the war and was glad her husband hadn't lived to see it.She checked the film was 'innocent' enough for her daughter to see. 'Snow White' epitomises purity and goodness.She tried to create light for her family (candles at supper...) butshe assumed her daughter's guilt - although she says she believes her daughter's denial, we perhaps get the feeling she doesn't really.
10 David Sterling'a pale, bookish boy' (line 27)He dreams of Superman too and is the narrator's closest friend.
11 Sheldon FeinHe is an outsider because he is a 'mummy's boy'He becomes the villain in the Superman games, but continues his cruelty outside the game, imprisoning and torturing insects. We can compare him to the Japanese imprisoning and torturing enemies.He plays games of war, such as pretending to be a Nazi, but he is the most closely touched by the war, as his Uncle Macy has probably become a prisoner
12 Uncle FrankHe is waiting to be drafted to fight in the war.He is clever and strong and popular. He knows the games children like.He is worshipped by his niece - she pictures him as Superman - and he loves her too.Does he believe her when she denies pushing Paula?His face is hidden in the shadows when he comes to talk to her, suggesting he can't bring the 'light' that will help her.When he goes away and leaves her alone, his footsteps get fainter - indicating that he will have a fainter role in her life from now on. Superman is gone for good.
13 Jimmy LaneHe was beaten to second place by the narrator in the Civil Defence signs competition - so he has a grudge against her.He lives opposite Paula Brown and he fancies Paula - he always chases her at tag.He backs Paula up in accusing the narrator of pushing Paula into the oil, both to show his 'support' for Paula and to get back at the narrator for beating him in the competition.
14 Paula BrownShe is very attractive but not popular, because she is too stuck up.She was given an expensive snow-suit as a present and was very proud of it.She is unfriendly: she only invited the narrator to play tag because they needed someone else, not because she wanted her.She fancies Jimmy Lane and always allowed herself to be caught by him.She deliberately chose to blame the narrator when she slid in the oil, perhaps because she saw the narrator as the weakest person there...Unwittingly, she changes the narrator's life for ever by destroying her illusions.
15 THEMESA theme is an idea that runs through a text. A text may have one theme or many. Understanding the themes makes the text more than 'just' a story - it becomes something more significant, because we're encouraged to think deeper about the story and work out what lies beyond the plot.There are a number of interlocking themes in Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit.Interestingly, the themes fall into pairs of opposite ideas.
16 Other pairs of opposite ideas: For example, there is a recurring contrast between light - represented by Superman's shining cape, the silver airplanes, the flames of candles, and the bright light in the narrator's home; and darkness - epitomised by the gloom of the air-raid shelter, the black slick of oil in the snow, and by the 'creeping shadow' of night."I began to run in the cold, raw evening toward the bright squares of light in the windows that were home.“Other pairs of opposite ideas:Superman – the JapaneseKindness – CrueltyInnocence - ExperiencePeace - WarTruth - Lies / LyingChildhood - Adulthood
17 Peace and WarHow do these themes help us understand the story? Look at one of them in detail - the theme of Peace and War."That same winter war was declared, and I remember sitting by the radio with Mother and Uncle Frank ...“
18 What does the story tell us about World War Two? The war began that winterUncle Frank was waiting to be draftedMother and Uncle Frank talked seriously about German planes and bombsThere was a Civil Defence sign drawing competitionThe children at school practiced for an air raidSheldon played at being a Nazi and his uncle was perhaps a prisoner of warThere was a movie about prisoners of war being tortured by the JapaneseDuring the tag game, the children could hear the planes across the bay
19 The Real WorldWhy did Sylvia Plath include so many references to the War when the story is about a group of kids playing in the snow? Yet they do make a difference! Think about these points:At the start, the narrator hardly notices that war is threatening, because she is so caught up in her own private world of Superman.The war gradually affects the narrator more and more - her uncle might be drafted, she practices for an air raid - but she doesn't seem worried (despite the fact that the adults are).She is physically affected by seeing the horrific way the Japanese treated their Prisoners of War. After that experience, she cannot dream of Superman again,so we know her childhood is beginning to fade.
20 The Real World (Cont.d)The group of kids have their own mini 'war' when Paula blames the narrator for spoiling her snowsuit. The narrator is the innocent victim and everyone else becomes her enemy. She is scarred for ever by the experience.As World War Two gradually becomes more serious, so the narrator gradually becomes more aware of its horrors - and has to fight her own 'war'.All references to the peaceful, innocent childhood portrayed at the start disappear by the end of the story - only the real, grown-up world is left
21 Thinking about the story The story begins with mention of the war. Why do you think the writer includes several references to the war?Why are the girl’s technicolour dreams important and how do her dreams change during the course of the story?In what ways does Uncle Frank seem like Superman to the girl? How does this change through the story?Why does the writer choose to describe the school playgrounds as“barren gravel playgrounds”?How does the writer build up a picture of Sheldon in lines 37 – 46?In lines 48 – 49, the narrator says “David couldn’t see his [Uncle Frank’s] likeness [to Superman] as clearly as I did.” What does this show about the narrator?
22 Thinking about the story In the first 64 lines of the story, how does the writer show the age of the narrator -about 12 – by the way she has the narrator speak and the things that the narrator says?What do lines 65 – 68 show about the differences between adults’ and children’s responses to war?What do you think are the different reasons for the writer setting the story in winter?How does the writer show the narrator’s loss of innocence between lines 84 – 96, then in the rest of the story?How do the girl’s dreams change, and why?The story begins with mention of the war. Why do you think the writer includes several references to the war?
23 Discuss the significance of the title of this story Para 1: IntroductionYour first impressions: is it a good title, and if so, why?Your headline - the gist of your answer. For example: "it is what Superman and Paula Brown represent that makes them so interesting".Para 2 - SupermanThe narrator's feelings about him ...Why he is so important to her ...Para 3 - Uncle Frankthe Narrator's feelings about Uncle Frank, her real-life supermanPara 4 - Paula Brown ...the Narrator's attitude to her; what she is likecontrast with Superman
24 Para 5 - the Superman strand and the Paula Brown strand come together ... the Narrator's feelings when she sees the war film on Paula's birthday...the effect on her Superman dreams ...the oil slick incidentPara 6 - Imagery associated with Superman ...Examples of imagery of light ...What this might mean (happiness, innocence, childhood) ..Para 7 - Imagery associated with Paula Brown ...Examples of imagery of coldness and darkness associated with PaulaWhat this might mean (cruelty, loneliness) ..What is being signified by the "closing down" of night at the end of the story ..Para 8 - ConclusionSumming up: what Superman and Paula representin the story and why the title works...