Critical analysis of Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus

Critical analysis of Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus

Critical analysis of Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus : Sylvia Plath is one of the most controversial American poets of the twentieth century. She advanced the confessional poetry writing and shows the clear complexities of human relationships, psychology, patriarchy, trauma and other controversial feelings of suicide that she addressed in her poems.

Critical analysis of Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus

Lady Lazarus is a very dark and brutal poem that seems to depict a woman’s Suicide Attempts. These attempts are endeavours to break free from the patriarchy that is completely callous as well as cruel to woman’s survival and needs. She indirectly projects the elimination of patriarchal mindset that belittles the space a woman desire. The poem itself opens with Plath’s struggle to attempt suicide. She says –

“I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it-“

The whole narration of the suicide attempts is apart of the Confessional narration. Plath’s first encounter with Death was a drowning accident at the age of 10. The second time, when she was 20 years old, she tried to commit suicide by swallowing a large number of sleeping pills and hiding in a cellar beneath the house for three days. She again tried to embrace death by deliberately driving off the road and survived that one also. Hence, one attempt to clasp death every 10 years. She has again been pulled back to life from her most recent attempt.

In the poem, death has been accepted as a form of an art. The correspondence between Death and Art has been established. Both states are states of perfection, beyond mutability. Death is something that is exhibited and the entire portrayal is sensational. As the Speaker is being saved from the suicide attempt, her body is exposed to the public that is very curious to see what has happened. The crowd is also voyeuristic and shoves in to see her unwrapped. It’s the big strip tease.

The ubiquitous control of a male over the female is also represented through the collective metaphor. The Holocaust metaphorically embodifies the woman’s struggle against the male dominated society. The speaker identifies herself with the Jewish victims of the Nazi concentration camps. The Nazis smashed the complete freedom of self-expression as well as the identity as an individual. Plath has drawn a parallel between the public horrors of these camps and personal horrors of oppression. The holocaust stands for the death-and-life battle between the self and a deadly enemy.

The poet takes the events from a personal to a historical perspective. The Nazi lampshade, paper weight and Jew linen remind us of the heinous crimes perpetrated on Jews by the Nazis, like making lampshades out of the skin of the murdered Jews, etc. They denote the commodification and exhibitionism of human beings. Plath’s skill in transforming a very personal experience into a public spectacle is exhibited here.

At the end of the poem, Plath finally finds relief for herself by avenging her father, her husband and the male population as a whole. After her suicide she “melts into shriek/I turn and burn… [turning into] ash, ash” (Lines 69-70). She cautions her enemies to “beware,
beware” (Plath 9). The poem’s title foretells the ending of the poem in its biblical reference. Jesus had resurrected Lazarus in the New Testament, Gospel of John. He restores Lazarus to life after being proclaimed dead for four days.

Like Lazarus, Plath rises “out of the ash”(Line 82). Here, the female counterpart of Lazarus is introduced. And she can also “eat men like air” (Line 84). This is to imply that like smoke, she can grasp at anything and everything. This is a revelation of her new found power. Thus, Sylvia Plath has been symbolized as rebirth and revenge. She brings out her utter ferocity towards the male oppression that she has been faced with in her previous life.

Plath brings in the phoenix myth of resurrection. The image is created of a woman who has become a pure spirit rising against those who have confined her and bottled up her creativity and activity: gods, doctor, men, and Nazis. This metamorphosis of the self into spirit, after an ordeal of mutilation, torture, and immolation, makes the poem a hallmark of the dramatization of the basic initiatory process.

The poem is a wonderful blending of different styles. Every style stands out distinctly. There’s bravado (“I have done it again”), slang (“A sort of walking miracle”), perverse fashion commentary (“my skin/Bright as a Nazi lampshade”), melodrama (“Do I terrify?”),
wit (“like the cat I have nine times to die”), boast (“This is Number Three”), self-disgust (“What a trash/To annihilate each decade”).

The poem moves on through reductive dismissal (“The big strip tease”) to public announcement, with a blasphemous swipe at the ecce homo (“Gentlemen, ladies/These are my hands/My knees”), and comes to its single lyric moment, recalling Plath’s suicide attempt in the summer before her senior year at Smith.

The whole of the poem is a Slide show, a sequence of images that perplex us. Four sets of Imagery are distinctly visible. At first, the Speaker is cloth; she is the lampshade, linen and napkin. Then, she is just an assortment of body parts such as knees, skin and bone, and hair. She moves on to become physical objects such as gold, ash and a cake of soap. Subsequently, she transforms into a red haired demon.

In addition to these are the sensational images of Death, the Peanut-crunching Crowd, the Strip Tease, the Concentration Camps and the Red[1]- haired Demon that make our hair stand on its end. The poem derives most of its meaning from its incredible imagery. The Sea shell symbolizes the hardened and dead female body.

The dead woman who is transformed is adorned with worms that turn into pearls. The Demon eating men like air is a very dreadful representation of the revenge. The imagery lends the poem an immutable charm.

Read it also : To The Lighthouse

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