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Lady Lazarus By Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath uses a diverse array of stylistic devices in “Lady Lazarus,” among them allusion,
apostrophe, extended metaphor, and irony, in order to develop the speaker as a character. Those three poetic devices are particularly evident in lines 65-79 of“Lady Lazarus.”
In the New Testament of the Bible, Lazarus is a man who rises from the dead at the command of Jesus Christ (John 11:38). The title of this poem, “Lady Lazarus”(the “Lady” without a doubt referring to Plath herself, as this is an example of confessional poetry; the “Lazarus” being an allusion to the biblical figure) is an accurate indicator of the content of the poem. “Lady Lazarus” is about Plath’s third attempt at suicide, and her subsequent ‘resurrection’. In lines 65-79, Plath develops the speaker’s contempt for the doctors who brought her back to life. Through this, Plath develops the character’s paranoia.
In lines 65-66 Plath uses apostrophe to address those doctors: “So, so, Herr Doktor / So, so Herr Enemy.” To her, the doctors are enemies- in the stanza previous to this line, she establishes the doctors as nearly vulture-like. Lines 61-64 state, “And there is a charge, a very large charge / For a word or a touch / Or a bit of blood / Or a piece of hair on my clothes.”Assonance (“charge, large charge”) is used in this example in a mocking fashion towards the doctors. Lines 67-68 establish the speaker’s fear that her fate is being used by the doctors for gain in the field of science: “I am your opus / I am your valuable.” Later, the speaker-character’s contempt of the doctors that Plath has established is tied in to a Nazi allusion, which augments this concept. In lines 73-78, Plath writes, “Ash, ash--- / You poke and stir / Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--- / A cake of soap / A wedding ring / A gold filling.” This allusion to Nazis (wedding rings and gold fillings were harvested from the imprisoned Jews during the Holocaust, and their remains were used for soap) is also an example of an extended metaphor. The Nazi metaphor is, in fact, extended over other Plath poems as well- notably “Daddy.”
This portion of “Lady Lazarus” serves to elucidate the confusion of the speaker’s character as well. This is accomplished through Plath’s use of irony. It is ironic that the speaker refers to doctors who
resurrected her life as “Nazis,” “Enemies,” and even “Lucifer” (the devil) in line 79.
In lines 65-79 of “Lady Lazarus,” Plath employs poetic devices such as allusion, apostrophe, extended metaphor and irony in order to develop the confusion, paranoia, and contempt in the character of the speaker- who is, of course, Plath herself.
women writers - slyvia plath by susan bassnett
Word Count: 452
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