Lady Lazarus, By Sylvia Plath Essay

1485 words - 6 pages

“Lady Lazarus” provides unfiltered insight into the emotions and desires of a deeply tormented woman. Having been denied a relationship with her father, abased by a dissatisfied mother, betrayed by her husband, and deprived of the ability to take her own life, Sylvia Plath was desperately seeking control. Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” contains her evolution from a tortured and paranoid soul to a powerful feministic icon that seems to be more than human. Despite the openness of the poem, in nature and in form, the disturbing imagery works to place tremendous distance between the poet and the reader. While this places Plath at the center of a spectacle—a situation for which she clearly expresses her discontent—she secures a commanding position in which spectators could only view with detached fascination. Written in the tempestuous period surrounding Plath’s 30th birthday, the work contains vivid descriptions of her pain, but at its core it is a woman’s struggle for control. As the poem develops, Plath moves from a vulnerable state of suffering and weakness to a position in which she seizes control of life and death, warning God and Lucifer of her newfound power. Plath rises in steps throughout the poem, as if it were an outline of her strategy. The poet demonstrates the method in which she must first control her oppressors as well as her own experiences of suicide, later being rendered capable of completing this transformation as a result of her election to return to wreak havoc rather than embrace a mundane lifestyle.
Stretched thin by the tribulations of her condition, the speaker, assumed to be Plath, likens her skin to a Nazi lampshade. Having recently been revived from her third suicide attempt, Plath is not yet human; she is a lampshade, a paperweight, a fine linen: all tropes to describe the fragmenting effect of subjection. Plath’s invocation of the Jews further serves to describe the agony of rebirth, as both worked to emerge from a traumatic experience. The speaker requires time to rebuild after a suicide attempt, indicating that “The sour breath / Will vanish in a day” (Plath 14-15). While the doctors credited for reviving her might interpret her statement to imply that she will adapt to normal life in the coming days, it is clear that the speaker finds the normalities of everyday life unappealing, associating them with the dolor that drove her to take her own life initially. Rather than return to a state of subjugation, Plath intends to rebuild as a creature fully capable of controlling those who were unable to understand her anguish.
Plath’s traumatic experiences and despair had previously been nothing more than a source of gossip and entertainment for unconcerned peers. The speaker gradually reveals her intention to exploit her former feelings of vulnerability in order to control her oppressors. Throughout the poem, Plath uses the Jews to personify the torment she has undergone, however, her willingness to use such a controversial...

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