Why is Sylvia Plath using images of Holocaust in her poems "Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus"

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Plath uses much sustained death imagery: both suicide and Holocaust imagery (comparing herself to a Jew and her father to a Nazi).  She writes grim apostrophes to her executioners, her father in "Daddy" and the "brute amused" public in "Lady Lazarus."

In "Daddy," she calls her father a "Ghastly statue," a "Panzer-man," a "train" sending her to a concentration camp, a "boot" stepping on her face, a "black man" devil, a "vampire," and a "bastard."  The bombardment of death and evil imagery presents the speaker as a victim coming from a patriarchy of death.

In "Lady Lazaraus," the speaker's tone is a bit more playful but no less gruesome in its images.  The Holocaust imagery continues:

A sort of walking miracle, my skin Bright as a Nazi lampshade, My right foot A paperweight, My face a featureless, fine Jew linen.

The Jewish tradition is one of suffering, and the paragon of suffering in the New Testament is Lazarus, who was plagued by leprosy. Instead of being healed by a Christ-figure, the speaker here is destined to suffer, as if in a pre-Christian world without a savior.  Instead of a harangue against her father, the speaker addresses her audience who stare at her in grim amazement; they are her Nazi torturers ("Herr Doktor. So, Herr Enemy")

Overall, the speakers of both poems is victimized by a culture of death and adopts, in response, a voice that is both full of vengeance and resignation.  She suffers from both an Elektra complex and a romanticized death wish.

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Silvia Plath's later poetry, some of the pain she felt at losing her father at such a young age comes to light. She was only eight when he died. Sometimes she would paint him as a Nazi in her poems, often representing herself as Jewish. She exorcised some of the painful events and memories of her own life, and the history in her father's background ( a Polish-German area) by working it through in poetry as she had done with other themes in her earlier works. In this way trauma from her own life underwent a transformation that made it applicable more universally - into something many people could identify with. in 'Daddy' she may have trying to present ideas of trying to be reuinted with her father through ending her own life.