Hughes’ poem ‘The Other’ revolves around his relationship with Assia Wevill, and his wife, the poet, Sylvia Plath. It is a tragic love poem and describes the impact they had on his life.
STORY AND SUMMARY OF THE POEM
You thought she had more than she needed, so you happily helped yourself to a part of what belonged to her. You took this decision because you thought that you needed more of what this woman had than she did, since you had nothing at all. In the beginning, it was only a little bit.
But, even when you took some, she still had plenty, and this made you realise how much you lacked. Invoking Aristotle’s principle that nature hurries to fill a void where there is one, you took as much as you pleased, as you thought that doing so was only natural. She was a fortunate woman, and you felt unfortunate compared to her, so you decided to set things right, and so you took until you had a bit of her luck for yourself. It seemed like the right thing to do. Still, she was so driven to succeed that you felt overshadowed like a page that is crossed out and thrown in the trash. You decided you were the instrument of the gods, sent to correct her excessive pride. Hating her made you feel a bit more balanced.
You took everything she had won, every moment of her happiness, and you thought this was correct compensation for having lost the game of success. In the end, she was left with nothing. You took even her life among the big pile of things that you gathered. She lost everything to you. But it was too late when you finally realised your mistake. And the fact that she was dead by this time didn’t help at all. You had everything she once had now, but it started feeling like way too much. You were the only person to see her as true self, with a smile, as she returned to take back some of what you’d stolen from her. And she didn’t take too much. At least, not in the beginning – only a little.
Unrestrained envy can lead to self-destruction. Envy is a natural feeling that has both positive and negative repercussions; it can generate ambition and push people to overcome their limits. However, if the state of being envious becomes overwhelming, it can lead to continuous discontent and stress, making life almost not worth living. In the poem, the speaker expresses resentment towards the addressee (‘you’), who felt envious of the subject (‘she’).
Most injustices start small and grow out of proportion – the addressee started small, stealing just a little bit from the woman mentioned, almost as if it was a game. However, they started feeling entitled to everything that the other possessed, and they could no longer control their greed.
Every person needs to go through a reality check once in a while. It is easy to think you are right when you look at things only from your perspective. The addressee convinced themselves that they were entitled to the things they lacked. They took them without asking, possibly because they knew there was something shameful in their actions. They become detached from reality until it returned to punish them. Equally, the subject of the poem displayed ‘hubris’. This is a tragic flaw of excessive pride and arrogance, which was corrected by ‘the gods’. This also suggests Hughes’ belief that the universe works on cosmic principles. These must be aligned with the principles of individual human beings. Any person who pushes the limits of these principles will suffer as a result.