Study Guide

Lady Lazarus Violence

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A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade, (4-5)

Yikes. Lampshades? That's gruesome, but this image is rooted in a rumored reality. Lady L's reference is to the lampshades that the Nazis were said to have made out of the skins of their victims. This is a violent and visceral image, and we are forced to contemplate the relationship between the persecutors of the Nazis and Lady L's (imagined?) persecutors, whoever they are.

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

Them unwrap me hand and foot—
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies (25-30)

Here Lady Lazarus introduces us to her imaginary circus, where she's forced to deal with the violence of the spectators who strip her. She has no power here; she must submit to being a spectacle for other people's entertainment.

There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart—
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes. (57-64)

Lady L tells us that the "peanut-crunching crowd" has to drop some dough to see her, and that there's an extra charge for touching or speaking. Lady Lazarus feels as if she has no options, that everyone wants a (literal) piece of her. In the poem, they're after her hair, her blood. Creep city.

I turn and burn. (71)

In this one small line, Lady Lazarus imagines that she's burning to death in a concentration camp crematorium. The smallness of the line contrasts with the horror of what's happening.

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

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

Lady Lazarus lists the remnants of the crematorium fires; all that's left of the people burned alive is ash and trinkets. The image may be quiet—it's just a subdued list of objects—but we know the horror that leads to that ash.

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

In the final moment of the poem, Lady Lazarus imagines that she can turn the tables on her persecutors. She resurrects herself, and returns to the living to "eat men like air." While this is an ambiguous line, we can be sure that it's violent. She's returning from the dead with cannibalistic urges, after all. The cycle of violence in this poem never disappears.

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