Manual LADY LAZARUS

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The most controversial aspect of the poem is the reference to the awful events at the Belsen concentration camp run by the Nazis in the second world war. Jews from all sorts of backgrounds were subject to the most gruesome experiments before being murdered. The speaker's suffering in the poem relates to that of any individual who went through the trauma of the holocaust. Many critics have questioned Plath's inclusion of Belsen and associated horrors; they see it as insensitive and gross.

Equally it could be argued that an artist has a duty to provoke and challenge and that no subject should be taboo. Sylvia Plath must have known that by using such sensitive language she would shock and offend, just as she did in her poem Daddy, which focuses mainly on her father Otto. In the poem he is portrayed as a Nazi, yet in real life there is no evidence to suggest this.


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So the poet Plath is creating a poetic persona, a fictional character. From this the question arises - does her use of such controversial language actually work within the poem and enhance it as a work of art? The final answer must be up to the reader. The only trouble is, she has to die first. She is the phoenix, the libertarian spirit, what you will.

She is also just a good, plain, very resourceful woman. The basic theme of Lady Lazarus is the regeneration of identity through the cycle of life and death. With this resurrection or rebirth comes new power, specifically that of the female the speaker now in a position to usurp the male. Sub-themes include personal and collective suffering, family influences and history and a woman's place in a largely male dominated world. I have done it again. One year in every ten I manage it—— A sort of walking miracle, my skin Bright as a Nazi lampshade, My right foot A paperweight, My face a featureless, fine Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin O my enemy. Do I terrify? The sour breath Will vanish in a day. Soon, soon the flesh The grave cave ate will be At home on me And I a smiling woman. I am only thirty. And like the cat I have nine times to die. This is Number Three. What a trash To annihilate each decade. What a million filaments.

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Lady Lazarus

The peanut-crunching crowd Shoves in to see Them unwrap me hand and foot—— The big strip tease. Gentlemen, ladies These are my hands My knees. I may be skin and bone, Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman. The first time it happened I was ten. It was an accident. The second time I meant To last it out and not come back at all. I rocked shut As a seashell.

They had to call and call And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls. Dying Is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. There is a charge For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge For the hearing of my heart—— It really goes. And there is a charge, a very large charge For a word or a touch Or a bit of blood Or a piece of my hair or my clothes. So, so, Herr Doktor. So, Herr Enemy.

A close reading of ‘Lady Lazarus’ - The British Library

I am your opus, I am your valuable, The pure gold baby That melts to a shriek. I turn and burn. Do not think I underestimate your great concern. Ash, ash— You poke and stir. Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—— A cake of soap, A wedding ring, A gold filling. Out of the ash I rise with my red hair And I eat men like air. Lady Lazarus has a single speaker with different personas, so as the poem progresses perspective changes. Overall the tone is defiant, perverse and grotesque. There is a hint of theatrical bravado and even comedy. That famous opening line, end stopped for emphasis and effect, is matter of fact and fateful too.

The conversational tone continues into the second line, as if the speaker is fully too familiar with her personal history and has been 'measuring' out whatever it is she has done, but not in coffee spoons like Eliot's Prufrock. The dash at the end of the third line leads the reader on and allows for that casual second stanza opening. Lazarus, from the title, was raised from the dead by Christ bible John She's inferring that she shouldn't really be around alive any longer but she is.

The first line ends with enjambment, the line running on. The second line, infamous, refers to the appalling fact that in the Nazi death camps the skin of victims was used to make lampshades and soap.

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Plath's use of this is shocking, the reasons complex, part to do with the relationship she had with her father Otto Plath, a German scientist who died prematurely, when Sylvia was only 8 years old. It seems that she never forgave him. The third line alludes to the foot also mentioned in her poem Daddy which is a symbol of the speaker's life. Metaphorically the foot is a paperweight, an object used to keep papers in place, so not used for walking - this foot isn't getting anywhere, this life isn't going anywhere?

Her face is indistinctive, a fine Jew linen.


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Again, reference to the Jews and their awful treatment by the Nazis. There is something bleak and rather eerie about this masking effect. The image is also surreal - the speaker is steadily creating a weird persona. And the first appearance of the enemy , asked to peel off the napkin, presumably the one covering the speaker's face.


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  4. This demand comes out of the blue - the speaker is not alone - and the eleventh line O my enemy has a dramatic feel. The first of only two questions in the poem seems to be the speaker presuming that she terrifies the enemy, because she is dead? The second question goes through nose, eyes and teeth So she is still alive? Yes it seems. But it will vanish in a day.. Note the enjambment throughout this stanza, and the repeated soon , which is rather hopeful in tone, pointing to the near future. And just what is the grave cave?

    Is it a grave where the speaker has been buried?

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    Perhaps it's not to be taken literally. It could be a symbol of domestic life, dull routine, which Sylvia Plath at times detested Is she suggesting that in a short time the flesh will suit her and make her smile, make her happy? After all, she is Lazarus, who was dead but has been resurrected.