Analysis Of The Poem Lady Lazarus By Sylvia Plath’s

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Sylvia Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus” is a tormented, yet powerful narrative work in which a woman recounts her grueling and depressing life in a man’s world. The speaker in this poem is interchangeable with Plath herself, reflecting the writer’s inner turmoil following a messy split from her husband and a growing sense of bitterness. While “Lady Lazarus,” at surface level, details a woman’s festering pain and sadness as she wrestles others’ dominating control over her, the poem postulates a warning against male chauvinism and highlights the severe oppression women face. Furthermore, macrocosmically, “Lady Lazarus” illuminates the human condition of finding escape through death and elucidates common feelings of vengeance towards those who inflict suffering. Through Plath’s illustrative allusions, symbolic metaphors and similes, and mocking irony, the speaker’s scorn towards misogyny and overwhelming desire to take her own life swell with chaotic emotion. Moreover, the poem’s repetition and rhyme scheme provoke the reader to absorb the speaker’s crippling affliction.

The outer shell of “Lady Lazarus” recounts how the speaker attempts to shed her sullen husk of hopelessness. Lady Lazarus enumerates her various efforts at suicide and criticizes the glares of onlookers, who view her suffering as some form of cruel entertainment. She goes on to describe the ways in which she could die and reflects on others’ perceptions of her. Finally, the speaker warns that she will be reborn and take revenge on those who have brought her harm.

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Even at first glance of the title “Lady Lazarus,” the reader discovers the glaring themes of death and suicide within Plath’s poem. “Lazarus,” alluding to a biblical character whom Jesus resurrected from the dead, implies that the speaker believes she should be dead but is still alive. The speaker’s attraction to death is further explored in the first stanza with her blunt statement “I have done it again,” (1), as an end stop adds the effect that the speaker is familiar with death and readers can infer that she has “died” once again. In contrast, the next line ends with enjambment, already creating a somewhat chaotic tone and flow within the poem. Furthermore, the stanza’s end rhyme, “again” and “ten” immediately indicate the harsh cycle the speaker feels trapped in, constantly fading between life and death. The third line’s end stop causally transitions the reader into the second stanza of the poem, where the speaker will begin to elaborate on her pain-stricken feelings.

In the second and third stanzas, the narrator’s displacement within society is first seen through the subtle metaphorical phrase “My right foot/a paperweight,” (6-7). Paperweights are usually decorative. By labeling herself as a “paperweight,” the audience sees the speaker’s low status in society— a pretty accessory. Moreover, her foot as a metaphorical paperweight implies that she is weighed down and cannot move forward, as a normal foot would do. Society fails to see any potential within her and consequently, degrades the speaker; solely viewing her as mere entertainment.

The second and third stanzas substantiate another overarching theme of the poem: the habitual oppression of women. Vivid contrast emphasizes the severity of this oppression when the narrator compares herself to a Jew during the Holocaust, “My face a featureless, fine/ Jewish linen,” (8-9). This also alludes to Plath’s German heritage, as her father was a German scientist who died when Plath was eight years old. Plath resented her father for dying, seeing his death as an abandonment of her and her family. This Holocaust imagery illustrates how the narrator sees her struggles as being as intense and horrifying as the Jewish people’s miserable experiences in concentration camps. This comparison further amplifies the speaker’s fierce emotions about her lack of control and power in her environment.

While the speaker does not establish a definite geographical setting, a purgatory mindscape is crafted through her emotions. The speaker’s consistent reference to her body makes her body a key element of the poem. In the fourth and fifth stanzas, the narrator speaks to the audience, asking us to “peel off the napkin” (10) and reveal her rotting face. Her pitted eyes and rancid breath paint the speaker to be a living corpse, suggesting that life, death, and resurrection have taken a toll on her body.

The narrator’s skin symbolically transforms into a barrier between her and the outside world in the sixth stanza when she describes how her flesh, which “the grave cave ate” (17), will be her home. The repetition of “soon” marks an upbeat change in tone and conveys how the speaker looks forward to the future when her skin will return and mask her true pain. While the grave cave represents where the speaker has been buried, it is also symbolic of the drab domestic routine that the speaker is eaten up by. Contextually, the speaker’s sentiments reflect the feelings of women who were unwillingly forced into the cult of domesticity after World War II. As veterans were returning from battle, American society emphasized ideas of pious and submissive femininity.

In the twenty-third stanza, the meaningless of the narrator’s life is emphasized through the symbolic comparison of being a “valuable, / pure gold baby,” (68-69). The narrator calls herself a baby, demonstrating her lack of power and ability to control how she is treated; always being watched over and “taken care of” by someone else. The rich adjectives “valuable” and “pure gold” symbolize status and power and serve as a chilling reminder of the ancient traditions of selling off daughters. This further delineates the idea that the narrator’s life is not in her own hands, but rather within the hands of others.

While men may be the narrator’s mortal enemy, the audience, to whom Lady Lazarus is speaking to, is not entirely innocent either. In an ironic volta, the reader realizes that they have also been complicit with the speaker’s pain and suffering. The speaker addresses the readers and the society, in which she suffers, mockingly through the phrase “peanut-crunching crowd” (26). This crowd represents the mindless sheep of society, those who accept the societal norms and rules without question and never consider the welfare of others. The narrator’s resentment against these sheep further illuminates the human condition of anger and desire to seek revenge.

In the last stanza, Plath’s imagery captures a powerful moment in which the speaker rises from the ash, like an almighty phoenix. In contrast to the rest of the poem, in which the speaker suffers at the hands of men who bring her back to life, the speaker is reborn on her own terms and is capable of standing up to her oppressors. The simile in the last line conveys how easily the speaker can tear down the patriarchal walls that have surrounded her. The phoenix represents the speaker’s aspirations and is a metaphor for empowerment. While the narrator cannot literally transform into a phoenix or obliterate the men who have caused her pain, she discovers how to express her resentment in a compelling way and fulfill her plans of vengeance.

In conclusion, the speaker’s chronicles of her haunted life reveal the fervent inclination to leave the physical world in order to escape depression and abuse. Despite the poem focusing heavily on the relationship between a woman and her attempts to regain control, the themes of “Lady Lazarus” apply to practically everyone in society. Any hindrance in finding happiness or purpose is often met with retaliation. Similar to the dark feelings of Lady Lazarus, it is a common human experience to endure agonizing adversity, seeing death as a way to escape this seemingly eternal pain. The speaker’s mockery of those who have forced her into a state of depression suggests that society as a whole lacks a sense of empathy for those who are truly suffering. “Lady Lazarus” reminds readers of the harsh reality of the physical world, in which a person can easily feel displaced and trapped in an endless cycle of mental hardship.


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