The Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

This is a poem by Sylvia Plath; the title ironically refers to a female Lazarus. Lazarus was a male character in the bible; he was brought back to life by Jesus Christ. Plath takes after this character of Lazarus, but in a different gender and behavior. Plath’s persona represents the modern woman who is subject to oppression and consciously aware that the male oriented society will resurrect her because it needs the pleasure of oppressing the woman repeatedly. The poem aims at destroying this myth and uses it to reject and shape an antithesis. This poem therefore, fails to conform to the traditional notion of lady like behavior in society.

In the poems first stanzas 1-4, Plath intrigues the reader by depicting herself as a tortured soul. Plath finds a way to put sensitive, beautiful words and bringing out the feeling of a dark and lonely place. Plath reveals in the poem how she has attempted to die once every decade in her lifetime. She uses vivid imagery to explain her reasons for desiring to die and compares her suffering to that of the Jews. She makes comparison of herself and the Nazi lampshade. This is metaphorical considering the Nazi people made lampshades from the skin of the Jewish people. The metaphor is used to compare her suffering to that of people captured in Nazi concentration camps. She uses imagery when she compares her right foot to a paperweight; it shows the realness of her pain (Plath, 24).The paperweight is used to express the nature of her emotional suffering. She goes ahead to refer to a featureless face which conveys that she lack identity. In other words, she considers herself worthless and a face lost in the shadows that no one would recall for whatever reason.

In the stanzas 5-7, Plath portrays her face as fine Jewish linen. This reference to Jew linen which was used to wrap Lazarus’s body before being laid to rest in his tomb shows she already feels she has no life. Plath consistently uses the imagery of death to convey her deepest darkest feelings. She points out to the reader to “peel of the napkin” in a juncture to persuade the reader to take a glance into her soul and really find out who she is. Although she is alive in the flesh, she uses decomposition and death to portray her soul as being dead. She describes her features as comprised of an outstanding nose cavity, eye pits and teeth which are feature of a decomposing body (Plath, 30). She continues to refer to sour breath, and the fetid smell of death which shows imagery to describe the emptiness she feels and the numbness of her tortured soul. The way she describes rotting conveys the way she feels about her soul decomposing.

In stanzas 8-10, Plath tells the reader how each decade she tries to die, “this is number three”. It shows the reader she has attempted suicide severally. Here Plath diverts from herself and begins criticizing those around her. “peanut crunching crowd” is what she refers to them suggesting that all the people around her do is scoff at her and ridicule her. She then compares herself to Lazarus who has risen from the tomb; she refers her resurrection from the tomb as a “big strip tease”. In her skeptical tone, it implies those around her just got entertainment from her experience. Every time she tried to die, she is brought back to life, people won’t let her stay dead hence, her she uses a sarcastic tone to portray her frustration with the spectators.

In stanzas, 11-13, Plath realizes she is still alive though she wishes she would stay dead. “Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman. The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident”. She uses imagery when she looks at her, knees, flesh and hands and realizes she is still the same as she was before undergoing death (Plath, 42).

In stanzas 14-19, Plath shows how she relates with death more than being alive and she says “Dying Is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well.” She goes further to describe her interest in death and this “talent” of hers when she says “I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I’ve a call.” She sees it as a calling which indicates that she has no purpose for living and would rather just die. She feels death is the only way to end her suffering, distress, and emptiness. The hard part she claims is when she dies but has to come back to life and face the spectators. She uses sarcasm when she claims people should be charged for just looking at her or even touching her.

In the last stanzas 20-27, Plath finally discloses the origin of her suffering. She says “So, so, Herr Doktor. So, Herr Enemy.” It refers to the Nazi doctors who restored the health of the Jewish victims only to bring them back to suffering. She emphasizes on “Herr” two times in this stanza in her attempt to reveal that men are the root of her suffering (Plath, 46). Plath switches to a tone of revenge when she blames God, men and the devil as she points out God and the devil are men as well. She uses symbolism when she says “rises from the ashes” to refer to the mythical phoenix creature which is known to burst into flames and resurrect from its ashes. In the end, Plath sends a warning to all men claiming she is no longer an incapable victim under them and she talks of her readiness to revenge against men.

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