Study Guide

Lady Lazarus The Holocaust

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The Holocaust

The Holocaust—the systematic killing of millions of Jews by the Nazis during World War II—is a constant reference point for Lady Lazarus. She identifies with the victims of the Nazis, and consistently imagines that she is one of them. Critics and readers of the poem have mixed opinions on Plath's Holocaust metaphors. Is she being insensitive by comparing her problems to those of the murdered Jews? Or are the metaphors a legitimate, if super intense and dark, way for Lady L to express her feelings?

  • Lines 4-9: Lady Lazarus compares herself to some of the horrific remnants of the Holocaust. The Nazis were rumored to have used the skin of Jews to make lampshades, and Lady Lazarus compares herself to one through a simile. Lady L compares herself to the Jewish people throughout the poem as a way of expressing her pain. 
  • Lines 8-9: After the reference to the Nazis, we see a reference to their primary victims—Jews. The Nazis took all of the possession of the Jews they kicked out of their homes, which may have included linens. This is an example of a metaphor—the speaker's face is being compared to linen, but no "like" or "as" is used to make the comparison. The comparisons of the speaker to things that Nazis had possession of makes us think that the speaker may feel that she herself is possessed by the Nazis.
  • Line 24: When we think of annihilation, we think of World War II and the Nazis.
  • Lines 64-72: In these lines, Herr, the German version of the word "Mister," is used, tying this poem back to Germany. "Doktor" is the German word for doctor, but the English word for enemy is used here, not the German one, which is "fiend." Here, Lady Lazarus starts speaking directly to the Nazis whom she imagines are persecuting her. She speaks to them teasingly, all while imagining that she's burning in a mass crematorium. That's…bold.
  • Lines 73-78: There was a rumor that Nazis used the fat of murdered Jews to make soap in the Holocaust, and here Lady L imagines that she watches the Nazis going through the burned remains of their victims, looking for things they can use. There is only ash, a wedding ring, and a gold tooth filling. They have burned all of the humanity out of the crematorium.
  • Lines 79-84: But out of the ashes rises a defiant Lady Lazarus, who comes back to life like the mythological phoenix. The Nazis can't kill her, she says. Now that she has resurrected, she will "eat men like air." Unlike the Jews slaughtered by the Nazis in real life, Lady Lazarus is reborn.

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