Sylvia Plath's Lady Lazarus Essay

1365 words - 5 pages

Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus"

In her poem, “Lady Lazarus,” Sylvia Plath uses dark imagery, disturbing diction, and allusions to shameful historical happenings to create a unique and morbid tone that reflects the necessity of life and death. Although the imagery and diction and allusions are all dark and dreary, it seems that the speaker’s attitude towards death is positive. The speaker longs for death, and despises the fact the she is continually raised up out of it.

From the title, Plath gives us immediately the theme of the poem. The title is a reference to a man in the New Testament that had been dead for four days, and was raised to life by Jesus. Plath uses this literary allusion to establish right off the bat that she is going to talk about death, and the seemingly inevitable rebirth that follows it. Although Lazarus is never mentioned again in the body of the poem, the rebirth that he went through and the action that his name references is constantly mentioned.

In the first stanza, the speaker says “I have done it again. / One year ins every ten / I manage it--,” (1-3). Because of the title, it can be concluded that “it” refers to a resurrection of some kind. This conclusion is subsequently corroborated by the listing of how the speaker is reborn, the stages in which life is brought back to her. The entire poem references Lazarus by mentioning how she comes back to life, not just once, but so far, three times: “I am only thirty. / And like the cat I have nine times to die. / This is Number Three,” (20-22)

Plath also uses allusions to the Nazi’s through out her poem, in conjunction with her biblical allusion to Lazarus and his resurrection. The speaker of the poem refers to her skin as being as “bright as a Nazi lampshade,” which itself is a disturbing image because it has been reported that some Nazi soldiers had lampshades made from the skin of the Jews. (5) Plath successfully creates an perfect image of what the speaker’s skin looks like as she is reawakened from death, and still manages to tie in a disturbing historical allusion that conjures up horrible images of death.
Later on, towards the end of the poem Plath makes reference to another set of Nazi actions and by doing so strengthening the image of death and destruction. In lines 73 thru 78, the speaker says:

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

These images and allusions to horrific crimes against humanity do an excellent job of creating an image of death as a horrible, painful thing. Plath alludes to the burning of the Jews in large ovens, burning them down to ash, so that nothing was left but “gold fillings,” and a “wedding ring,” as well as makes reference to another disturbing report that some Nazi soldiers made soap out of the Jew’s as well as lampshades. These terrible images are designed to paint a wretched view of death. Interestingly...

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