How are the images in Sylvia Plath's poem "Lady Lazarus" meaningful and effective?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The imagery in Sylvia Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus” is memorable and varied and creates a number of different effects, including the following:

* The word “it” in lines 1 and 3 is ambiguous and mysterious and thus creates interest and suspense.

* The imagery in lines 4-5 is the first example of many such images alluding to the holocaust. (In this case, the reference to

. . . skin

Bright as a Nazi lampshade . . .

refers to the way that the skin of some concentration camp victims was actually turned in literal lampshades. The imagery in lines 6-15 elaborates on the imagery of lines 4-5 and makes it more varied. Holocaust imagery is emphasized again heavily near the end of the poem.

* In line 11, the first of various references to enemies appears; this kind of imagery is emphasized heavily near the end of the poem.

* Lines 13-15 make even more explicit the imagery of death that is such a major part of the poem. Here the speaker imagines a skull freshly shorn of its skin.

* In line 17, the “grave cave” presumably refers to the hole in the ground in which people are buried and in which their flesh deteriorates.

* Line 19 may refer to the teeth fully visible in a skull.

* Line 21 alludes to a common idea that cats have nine lives to lose before they really, finally die.

* The word “This” in line 22 alludes to the speaker’s latest flirtation with death. Such flirtations seem to come for her roughly every ten years (24).

* In lines 26-27, the speaker seems to imagine her body on display in some kind of circus exhibition.

* Line 29 alludes, ironically, to a burlesque show in which a woman removes her clothing to titillate people; here the allusion is clearly ironic.

* In line 30, the speaker ironically adopts the voice of a carnival barker or master of ceremonies.

* In lines 35-36, the word “it” returns, although by now it is obvious that “it” refers to her near-death experiences.

* Lines 39-40 use a pleasant, playful image in a highly ironic context.

* Perhaps lines 41-42 refer to maggots.

* The idea that dying “Is an art, like everything else” (44) seems paradoxical, since we usually think of dying as something that is both common and easy, requiring no special skill. The speaker’s claim to the contrary implies her wit, egotism, and sardonic humor.

* In liner 46, “feels like hell” alludes to a very common expression but may also have grimly ironic overtones to anyone who believes that suicide is a sin.

* In line 48, “call” alludes to a calling, a special talent, a true gift for doing anything well.

* Perhaps the “cell” of line 49 is a cell in a mental asylum (or in a prison).

* In line 50, “stay put” may be a joke alluding to the fact that the dead cannot move.

* In lines 51-54, the speaker compares her revivals when she had seemed dead to theatrical revivals – shows staged largely for the benefit of others.

* In line 56, “knocks me out” means “impresses me” but obviously has playful, ironic overtones in a poem about death. This phrase contributes to the informal, colloquial tone of the poem.

* Lines 57-59 allude to the commercialism of modern society, in which everything is seen as a money-making opportunity. So do lines 61-63.

* Lines 64-81 seem to return, in many ways, to the earlier holocaust imagery and imagery of enemies, so that the poem begins to come full circle and achieve symmetry.

* Lines 82-84 seem to allude the mythical bird known as the Phoenix.



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