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Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" Essay

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Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus"
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Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" Essay


Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's Lady Lazarus Sylvia Plath completed her masterpiece, Lady Lazarus, in the days prior to her suicide in 1963, while in a state of disturbance, distress, and obsession. To Plath, this was not just a poem; rather a message to others about her life, her enemies, and her struggles with everything from her family to mental stability. Lady Lazarus conveys Plath's real life suicide attempts, parallels to her classic novel, The Bell Jar, as well as a biblical allusion in its title, resulting in a horrific, yet detailed annotation of her psychological troubles. Within the first three lines of her autobiographical poem, Plath endows the reader with a strong image and message, by simply stating she has attempted suicide three times. Plath proclaims, "I have done it again. / One year in every ten / I manage it ----." She is ultimately implying suicide attempts have plagued her at age ten, twenty, and thirty. However, in real life, Sylvia Plath did not attempt suicide at age ten, but we are able to deduce the fact that her father died when Sylvia was eight or nine years old. This could possibly relate to suicide, because her soul died, and her father's death haunted and upset her throughout her life. Plath also fails to further mention her first suicide attempt at age 20, while she was a student at Smith College. As blatantly stated, Sylvia Plath's mastery with these powerful tercets, creates vivid images, and entices the reader from the first line. The sixth stanza of Lady Lazarus speaks of Plath's second suicide attempt, which left Plath almost paralyzed - mentally, emotionally, and physically. Stanza six of Lady Lazarus reads: Soon, soon the flesh
Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" Essay 2

Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" Essay

The grave cave ate will be At home on me. Plath creates a metaphorical image of being `swallowed up' by the "grave cave" as well as portraying the concept of claustrophobia and being ensnared in a deep abyss. Not only was this a horror and fear of Plath; it actually happened to her and Esther Greenwood, the antagonist in her autobiographical fiction, The Bell Jar. In 1953, after returning from McLean psychiatric hospital in Boston, Plath attempted suicide for the second time in her life, by overdosing on a mlange of antidepressants and then hiding in the crawl space, otherwise known as "the cave." Plath also ties in the line "The sour breath will vanish by day" to this incident, because of body decomposition, her body will no longer be around and her scents will vanish and be overcome by smells that are more horrific. Lines 25 through 27 are also in relation to Plath's 1953 suicide attempt because of the news headlines Plath made when her mother found her unconscious and vomiting in the basement crawl space, as well as the lengths that friends and family went to, in order to find her. This is not the sole deduction that can be formed about line 25; it also holds meaning to Plath's use of biblical allusion in the title. Plath predominantly speaks of "a million filaments" and "the peanut crunching crowd." The "peanut crunching crowd" is analogous to Plath's family members who were eager to aid in searching for her upon her disappearance, as well as strangers who watched as the event unfolded via the press and media, considering Plath's disappearance received national attention. In the same respect the use of "a million filaments" can be related to the flashbulbs of the reporters when the press flocked to Plath upon her discovery in the crawl space and revival at McLean. Plath speaks of her persona like that of a cat; she has nine times to die. In total, Plath's suicide attempts numbered at three, and she was successful on the fourth, in which she took her life by creating a gas chamber of sorts in the kitchen of her London flat. Plath creatively uses the line, " What a trash / To annihilate each decade", to imply that she
Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" Essay 3

Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" Essay

has attempted suicide three times, once in each decade, first when she was 19, and again at age 20 and 30. Thus, suicide and, moreover, the death of loved ones (her mother and father), plagued each decade of her rather short life. Plath's final unveiling of her own life's events and her chronicle of suicide can be seen in stanza 14 when she utters the words: As a sea shell. They had to call and call And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls. This tercet portrays the grim experience that Plath describes in The Bell Jar, in which Esther Greenwood (Plath) wades into the water of the Atlantic Ocean in an attempt to go underwater, never to return, thus drowning. The vivid imagery of "picking worms off" like "sticky pearls", illustrates the end result that she was rescued and resuscitated, but, yet again, failed at suicide. Plath wanted death so badly; she committed these chilling acts more than once. Though she was unsuccessful, Plath would slowly propel herself to the ecstasy she yearned for and obsessed over - death. The title "Lady Lazarus" has a great deal of significance to the poem itself and has vast hidden meaning. Plath uses a biblical allusion by connecting her feminist creation of "Lady Lazarus" with Lazarus of Bethany, who was featured in the book of John. Plath modified Lazarus's incident with death to correlate with her life struggles. In John 11:4, the Bible reads, "The sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that son of God, might be glorified thereby." Though Lazarus died, Jesus was able to bring him back from the dead, however out of Jesus's desire to advertise his own power, rather than the kindness of his heart . Thus, Plath relates this to her own life, in which "Herr Doktor" has the talent to bring back from death and states of mental and physical instability. Plath tries to tell the reader that "Herr Doktor" interfered with her art of poetry, thus, causing her to suffer.
Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" Essay 4

Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" Essay

In essence, the entire poem can be seen as an allegorical account of Plath's battle with "Herr Doktor" and rising from the dead, just like Lazarus. Many of Plath's tercets and lines have dual meaning, that relate not only to real life and The Bell Jar, but this continual allegory and struggle between "Herr Doktor" and herself. In line 25, Plath speaks of "a million filaments." She is not speaking simply about flashbulbs, she is also speaking of the electricity passing through her body from EST (Electric Shock Therapy), which she endured because of "Herr Doktor" at McLean. Through EST, the psychiatrist/doctor can be equated to Jesus in the story of Lazarus; he brings Sylvia Plath from psychiatric pain or a low point in her life to better health, parallel to Lazarus. The title "Lady Lazarus" also contains yet another intriguing element that Plath used to reveal her feelings. In his essay, "Lady Lazarus - An Essay Review ", David M. Heaton states, "The title ironically identifies a sort of human oxymoron, a female Lazarus--not the biblical male." Plath does not conform to the standards of society of being ladylike, instead Plath wants to break free and be separate - a free and untainted woman. As previously stated, "Herr Doktor" like Jesus, resurrects Lazarus for his own acknowledgement, thus Plath tries to equate that difference with the title. In her state of anger and revenge in this allegorical annotation, she uses "I" twenty two times and "my" nine times. Thus, she reveals to the reader that "Herr Doktor" may be helping her for his own recognition, but she will not let that stop her from avenging herself. Considering Sylvia Plath's suicide attempts, one may equate this Lazarus with Plath. Self-destruction is inevitable in the poem, just as it was in Plath's real life. Lazarus is resurrected from death; if we equate Lazarus with the mythical feminist version of Plath, we can see the parallel. Plath is `Lady Lazarus' and is reincarnated after each suicide attempt, thus, she is like a cat, and has nine times to die, furthermore leading to Plath's infamous thought, "Dying / is an art, like everything else. / I do it exceptionally well." Sylvia Plath has created more than a poem in "Lady Lazarus", she has fashioned a detailed work of art that chronicles not only her suicide attempts, but the events of her
Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" Essay 5

Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" Essay

later life. Plath's creative use of biblical allusion changes the poem from a portrayal of suicide to an allegory that conveys her obsessions, weakness, and feelings, while retaining a morbid sensation. "Lady Lazarus" is a psychological journey and creation in which Plath must rise above "Herr Enemies", "Herr Doktor" and her inner mental struggles.

Reality and Allusion in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" Essay