Sylvia Plath's “The Applicant” is a free verse dramatic monologue in which a salesperson rigorously interviews a man who has applied to buy a wife. The poem satirizes rampant consumerism and patriarchy, exploring ways these forces pressure people to conform to narrow roles. "The Applicant" originally appeared in The London Magazine and is one of the first poems in Ariel, Plath’s seminal, posthumous collection of poetry published in 1965. Plath wrote most of Ariel's poems, including "The Applicant," in the highly productive five-month period before her death in February 1963.
First, are you ...
... show something's missing?
No, no? Then ...
... Empty? Empty.
Here is a ...
... you marry it?
It is guaranteed ...
... from the salt.
I notice you ...
... you in it.
Now your head, ...
Naked as paper ...
... talk, talk, talk.
It works, there ...
... it, marry it.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Sylvia Plath Reads "The Applicant" — Listen to the author read the poem aloud.
"1940s, Cold War and Consumerism" — An overview of the explosion of advertising and the "new media" in post-war America from Ad Age.
Sylvia Plath's Biography — A detailed look at the author's life and work, including links to her poems and other related resources from Poetry Foundation.
A Brief Guide to Confessional Poetry — A concise account confessional poetry's emergence, including an explanation of what makes a poem "confessional."
50 Years of Ariel — A 21-minute podcast episode in which writers examine the legacy of Plath's book Ariel, the collection in which "The Applicant" appears.
1First, are you our sort of a person?
2Do you wear
3A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
4A brace or a hook,
5Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,
6Stitches to show something's missing? No, no? Then
7How can we give you a thing?
9Open your hand.
10Empty? Empty. Here is a hand
11To fill it and willing
12To bring teacups and roll away headaches
13And do whatever you tell it.
14Will you marry it?
15It is guaranteed
16To thumb shut your eyes at the end
17And dissolve of sorrow.
18We make new stock from the salt.
19I notice you are stark naked.
20How about this suit——
21Black and stiff, but not a bad fit.
22Will you marry it?
23It is waterproof, shatterproof, proof
24Against fire and bombs through the roof.
25Believe me, they'll bury you in it.
26Now your head, excuse me, is empty.
27I have the ticket for that.
28Come here, sweetie, out of the closet.
29Well, what do you think of that?
30Naked as paper to start
31But in twenty-five years she'll be silver,
32In fifty, gold.
33A living doll, everywhere you look.
34It can sew, it can cook,
35It can talk, talk, talk.
36It works, there is nothing wrong with it.
37You have a hole, it's a poultice.
38You have an eye, it's an image.
39My boy, it's your last resort.
40Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.