“Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath

May 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

“Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well.”Sylvia Plath has long been recognized as a poetic icon. After committing suicide in her thirties, many of her previously unrecognized works gained notoriety and praise. Throughout her life, she struggled to be accepted into the literary world. After writing many poems, short stories and “The Bell Jar,” she remained unsatisfied with the success and momentum she gained with each, and took her own life. It is through her words we see a woman that used her writing as a means of expression, many times expressing grief, sadness and anger. Plath began writing a series of poems shortly before her death that provide is with an opportunity to see the internal conflicts she felt. Many of these poems focus on death and suffering. Plath uses death imagery in poems found in Ariel to represent her need to escape reality and therefore dissociate herself from emotional and physical existence. I will show how Plath’s life experiences and more importantly, her reactions to them, have contributed to her depressive, death-obsessed state. I will also provide examples from several of her poems demonstrating Plath’s use of death imagery and analyze why it is used in the way that it is. Lastly, I will show how many of her poems from Ariel demonstrate Plath’s self-loathing, and her need to feel a sense of success-even if that success comes from an accomplished suicide. Although Sylvia Plath had many opportunities throughout her life, and accomplished what many only dream of, we see how the few tragedies she did endure, affected her. At age eight her father died from complications related to diabetes. Plath had been very close to her father, and while not much is mentioned of him in “The Bell Jar,” the book that is thought to be Plath’s autobiography, we see the internal struggles she felt over his death in her poems found in Ariel.One of her highly acclaimed poems “Daddy,” shows her sadness and anger surface. This poem is written in an angry tone, as if she is struggling to understand something that is unclear to her- primarily the death of her father. Plath attempted suicide twice prior to writing the poems found in Ariel, and we see her expressing a need to die so that she can be with her father again. “I was ten when they buried you/At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you/I thought even the bones would do” (51). We see in these lines how the loss of her father has affected her life. When she says, “I thought even the bones would do” she is lacking realistic thought. She feels that just having some small portion of her father back would provide her with a sense of happiness, although it is highly evident this is not possible. This shows Plath’s confusion over her father’s death and her need to feel close to him. Later we see her speaking of a relationship that resembles more a marital one than that of father and daughter. “And I said I do, I do” (51). Because this was written when Plath was suffering from severe depression and her writing was at its peak, one can believe that her lines between her father and husband were somewhat “blurred” and she speaks of them both as “Daddy.” Linking the two together shows that Plath admits that her lack of relationship with her father has ultimately led to failed relationships with men throughout her life. At the time the Ariel poems were written, Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes, had left her and was having an affair with another woman. This became another event in her life that contributed to her deteriorating mental state and resulting use of death imagery. In “Daddy” we see Plath showing grief over the loss of her father, but also see her anger towards Hughes surface. “Daddy I have had to kill you” (49). Here Plath is confining herself to the fact that Hughes is not coming back, so she feels a need to “kill” him, or at least the idea of them being together again. The last line in this poem shows Plath’s contentment with death, and her erratic, angry thought patterns. “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” (51). Plath succumbs herself to the idea of death as her loss of Hughes is yet another failure for her, leaving her with yet another reason to no longer go on living. While some of Plath’s works are cheerful in nature such as “The Bed Book,” a children’s book, the poems found in Ariel are laden with death imagery indicative of Plath’s loss of reality and her need to detach herself from emotions other than those that are negative. In “Lady Lazarus,” she writes the quote found at the beginning of this paper: “Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well”(7). Most of us know that dying is not something that can be considered an art form. Once you’ve done it, there is no chance to do it again. However, Plath shows us how her obsession with death has consumed her to the point of taking pride in and making a “hobby” of it. We see how Plath almost becomes excited at the notion of death again in “Lady Lazarus” when she says, “Soon, soon the flesh/The grave cave ate will be/At home on me/And I am a smiling woman.” (6). In “The Birthday Present” we see Plath anticipating a gift, yet demonstrating ambiguity at the same time. She wonders what the present may be, yet she says, “I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year/After all I am alive only by accident”(42). This shows how Plath cannot be excited about a present when she is anything but excited about even being alive. Many of Plath’s poems show a sense of self-loathing and internal disappointment. These poems show how her image of herself had contributed to her thoughts of death and failure. Plath wrote “Sheep In Fog,” found in Ariel, which shows Plath’s ideas of how others see her. “People or stars regard me sadly, I disappoint them…They threaten to let through to a heaven…”(3). Threatening is usually used to convey a negative consequence to an action. Most people regard heaven as the ideal place to go after death. Plath uses the line, “threaten to let me through to heaven,” to show how she feels she does not want to go there, or maybe doesn’t deserve to. Plath’s poem “Cut” tells of a girl accidentally cutting her thumb and suddenly becoming entranced with it. It shows a point of view from the mind of a self-mutilator. Many people who mutilate themselves do so because it invokes an emotion. Many sufferers of this problem find that mutilating themselves creates a sense of accomplishment. In “Cut,” Plath says “What a thrill. My thumb instead of an onion” (13). This leads us to believe that she meant to cut the onion, but hit her thumb instead, and after thoroughly examining the results-bleeding from the wound-she became infatuated with it. The last stanza reads: “How you jump-trepanned veteran/Dirty girl/thumb stump” (13). This leads me to believe that Plath is disappointed that she “jumped” when she cut herself, which to Plath shows weakness, whereas she should have tolerated it better. Calling herself “Dirty girl” again accentuates the idea that Plath uses her words to show her shattered self image. We see Plath’s perceptions of herself and others through her works also. In “The Birthday Present,” Plath is awaiting a gift, as mentioned before, but her resistance about receiving it is evident. She uses the word “veil” many times to show that she feels people are not what they appear to be-they wear disguises. Plath says “only let down the veil, the veil, the veil” (44). Later she again relates these emotions to death. “If it were death I would admire the deep gravity of it” (44). If the gift were death, she could be happy about it, but not knowing for sure that’s what it is, she cannot find true excitement in receiving it. Plath exhibits fear at becoming what others hope her to be. Although we see through her poems that she is truly unhappy, she does not take any measures to make her life better. In “The Arrival of the Bee Box,” Plath describes this box in which there are bees that she knows she should be afraid of, yet she finds herself drawn to them. “I have to live with it overnight/And I can’t keep away from it” (59). This shows her self-destructive behaviors surface again as she is drawn to a known evil. Later she says, “I wonder if they would forget me…They might ignore me immediately…I am no source of honey…so why should they turn on me?” (60) These lines show Plath’s perception of herself once again. Saying that she is “no source for honey” can be interpreted to mean that she feels that she does not provide what people need from her. On the other hand, this may mean that she should not be attacked for the way she is. In reality, bees go after honey. If she is not honey, they will not want her. In the same breath, if she does not want, or give them what they need, she can remain the way she is-depressed, lonely, and again…self-loathing. Many interpretations can be made about Sylvia Plath’s works. One theme is certainly evident throughout her writings: death. Whatever meaning lies behind her use of death and terms relating to it may never be known, but it is used and that cannot be argued. Plath does a remarkable job of showing that although people can be granted the gifts of knowledge and success, they may long for more in their lives. She was given the gift of writing and words, she was intelligent and successful, but still woke everyday to a void and loneliness in her life. All of the virtues that life afforded her could not mount up enough to save her from the severe depression and turmoil she felt. Her writings show the inner workings of her mind. The thoughts she had just prior to her death poured onto paper and were reproduced into Ariel. While it is tragic that her death may have been prevented had her writings been recognized sooner, we will never know if they would have become what they did had she lived. Ironically, she wanted to be known for her writing, and her death was what accomplished that for her. Death was a theme found in many of her works, and I believe, her biggest inspiration. Although her works are fraught with depression, I feel Plath was happiest when she was writing, whatever the focus was. I feel that the death imagery shown throughout her works is indicative of her style and a reflection her life. I have shown how the death of her father and split from her husband contributed to her feelings of depression and inadequacy, all leading to her lust for mortality. I have shown specific excerpts from her poems that accentuate her use of death imagery and analyzed why I feel she used it in the context and manner in which she did. I have also shown how the use of death as a theme in her works enables readers to understand the psyche behind the woman-the self-loathing and destruction that led to her eventual suicide. Plath’s works may be depressing and gruesome at times, but each tells a story-a story of a woman, her life, her struggles, her successes and her failures. All of them allow us to step into the broken mind and heart of Sylvia Plath.

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