Study Guide

Lady Lazarus Death Imagery

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Death Imagery

Plath's poem is incredibly visceral. It's not afraid to imagine mangled and burned bodies, and we are forced to witness it all. "Lady Lazarus" has a real shock factor, and we have to look death right in the face through the poem. We think that is why the poem is so hauntingly effective; we are forced to contemplate the horrors that our speaker is dealing with in an all too real way.

  • The title: The title is an example of allusion, or reference. The title refers to the biblical Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.
  • Lines 1-3: These lines are about death and rebirth, but only if we put them in context. Immediately understanding the allusion in the title would help—if we know that the speaker is like Lazarus, then we could guess that the thing she has done is something like being raised from the dead.
  • Lines 4-5: Lady Lazarus references the lampshades that the Nazis made out of the skin of slaughtered Jews. This disgusting and dark image comes right in the beginning of the poem, and it asks us to imagine a connection between Lady L and the victims of the Holocaust from the get-go.
  • Lines 10-15: Lady L asks us to peel back an imaginary cloth and view her face. She describes what sounds like a corpse (or an almost-corpse); she has eye pits instead of eyes, she has stinking, sour breath. Though she's alive, her body seems almost dead.
  • Lines 16-18: Here, we get more bitterness about coming back to life. The flesh that will be at home on our speaker is creepy, and she says that the "grave cave" ate it. We sure wouldn't want that flesh to be at home on us. Yuck.
  • Line 21: Lady L compares herself to a cat with a simile, and says that she, like the cat, has nine lives—or, in her darker version of the adage, "nine times to die."
  • Lines 23-24: When the speaker is talking about annihilating "a trash," she's talking about death—she's come close to dying once a decade. So, in effect, she's calling her life, her body, trash. In other words, Lady L needs some therapy, pronto.
  • Lines 35-38: Here, we finally get somewhat of a straightforward description of the speaker's encounters with death. Once, when she was ten, she came close by accident. Later on, she had another brush with death, but that time it wasn't by accident—she didn't want to be brought back to life. In other words, she has attempted suicide at least once in the past.
  • Line 58-64: Lady L imagines that she's a circus performer, and says that there's a charge for the audience to view her mangled body—her scars, her blood. She imagines that other people want to participate and touch her pain.
  • Lines 71-78: In what Shmoop thinks is the most horrifying moment of the poem, Lady L imagines that she has burned to death in a concentration camp crematorium. All that's left of the human being burned alive is ash and small gold trinkets that have survived the fires. Though she will resurrect herself in the last lines of the poem, we are left with this haunting image of death: humans burned to ash. Bleak? Yes, but don't say we didn't warn you.

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