Study Guide

Lady Lazarus Suffering

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A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen. (4-9)

Here Lady Lazarus compares herself to a Nazi lampshade (that the Nazis supposedly made out of the skin of Jews). There is a serious contrast here—she is "walking," but the Jewish people she's referencing are very much dead. Is she being callous? Or is this an accurate expression of her pain?

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot—
The big strip tease. (25-29)

Lady L's suffering isn't just related to the Holocaust. Here, she portrays herself as a circus attraction who has no control as the crowd strips and humiliates her.

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real. (43-47)

Here Lady L gives us a new window into her suffering; she does it "so it feels real." She tries to commit suicide so that she can feel something—it seems like her life has left her numb and void of feeling. Suicide, for her, seems like a way to get that numbness to go away. But at what cost?

I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling. (73-78)

Once again, Lady L compares her suffering to that of the Jews. She imagines herself being burned to death in a concentration camp crematorium, as millions of Jewish people were. It's a bold connection to make, and she turns it into an accusation. Whoever is persecuting her is just as bad as the Nazis.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air. (82-84)

At the end of the poem, Lady Lazarus resurrects and returns from her death to inflict violence on those who hurt her. Is her suffering over with? Or will her next life be just as painful?

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