Sylvia Plath's Lady Lazarus

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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 “b...

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...ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air. (80-84)

This last statement seems to inspire hope, mainly because of the allusions it makes, as well as the ideals that those allusions embody. When the speaker describes her rising up out of the ashes with her red hair, it recalls images of the mythical Phoenix, a beautiful red bird who died, burned to ash, and out of the ashes rose up fresh and new, ready to take on the world and live life again. The phoenix inspires hope and embodies the ideal of second chances.

By ending the poem with a cloaked reference to the phoenix, the speaker, and Plath send a message that although her death and rebirth continue to happen, and that death may seem to be the better option, if she is forced to return to life over and over again, she will be as the phoenix, strong and assertive, and willing to make a stand.
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