“Lady Lazarus” is an extraordinarily bitter dramatic monologue in twenty-eight tercets. The title ironically identifies a sort of human oxymoron, a female Lazarus—not the biblical male. Moreover, she does not conform to society’s traditional idea of ladylike behavior: She is angry, and she wants revenge. She is egocentric, using “I” twenty-two times, “my” nine. Her resurrection is owing only to herself. This is someone much different from the grateful man of John 11:2 who owes his life to Jesus.
Given Sylvia Plath’s suicide, one might equate this Lazarus with Plath. Self-destruction pervades the poem as it did her life, but she has inventively appropriated Lazarus in constructing a mythical female counterpart who is not simply equatable with herself. This common tactic of distancing autobiography tempers one’s proclivity to see the poem as confessional. As confession mutates to myth, subjectivity inclines to generalized feeling.
Lady Lazarus resurrects herself habitually. Like the cat, she allows herself nine lives, including equally their creation and cancellation. The first line may stress her power over her fate, but “manage” (line 3) suggests an uneasy control. It also connotes managerial enterprise, an implication clarified when the speaker’s language takes on the flavor of the carnival.
The first eight stanzas largely vivify this ugly but compelling experience. The reader sees the worm-eaten epidermis and inhales the sour breath. More cadaver than person, Lady Lazarus intends terror, however problematic her bravado. Nevertheless, she will soon smile, when time restores flesh eaten by the grave. (The smile will not prove attractive.) For the...
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