She's a Maneater!

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The imagery in Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus" is astonishing.  As I read the poem, I felt myself shiver with every descriptive line.  Without even saying the word "dying" until line 43, the reader is aware that the speaker is recounting the times she has encountered death because of Plath's imagery, an excellent example of showing instead of telling.  She describes her skin as being "bright as a Nazi lampshade" (5), a disturbing though revealing description since a Nazi lampshade consisted of the stretched skin of the Jews that were murdered during the Holocaust.  Her right foot is a "paperweight" (7), which made me think of deadweight but since it's only her foot, it's as if she's not completely dead.  I was confused, however, at lines 8-9 about her face being "a featureless, fine / Jew linen" so if anyone has any ideas as to what that could mean, I'd love to hear them.  In line 10, the speaker tells the reader to "peel off the napkin" to see her face.  I interpreted this as the cloth that covers a dead body, since doing as she says would reveal "the nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth" such as that of a skeleton.  

In high school, I heard the interpretation of this poem as the speaker being proud of her ability to resurrect herself.  My ninth grade teacher told us that the reason she describes death so vividly was to boast of her "art" (44).  However, I think the speaker is warning the people who continue to attempt to bring her back from death to stop.  While the speaker is very elusive for the first half of the poem, never forthrightly saying a derivative word of death, she becomes rather blunt at lines 43-44 and 47 by saying, "dying / is an art ... / I do it so it feels real."  It's as if she's no longer worried to straightforwardly claim what she wants, which is to die.  Coming back to "the same place, the same face, the same brute ... / knocks her out" (53, 56) suggesting that she is tired of people bringing her back.  

The first warning lies in lines 57-59 and 61-62 when she says, "there is a charge for the eyeing of my scars, / ... the hearing of my heart, / a very large charge, / for a word or touch," implying that those who bring her back will pay for doing so.  She specifically mentions the Doktor in line 65 as the one for whom she is an "opus" (67), like a "valuable" (68) piece of art, possibly because her resurrection could serve as his "pure gold baby" (69), or financial means.  She proceeds to tell him to "beware" (80) because at some point, "out of the ash / [she rises] with [her] red hair / and [she eats] men like air" (82-84), suggesting that she will eventually come back from one of her deaths and punish him for standing in the way of her goal.



Carissa Altier said:

Thank you, Karyssa. You helped me see this poem more clearly. The first time I read it, I assumed that "the same brute" was a more ambiguous term to refer to family and people she dealt with on a daily basis. It's obvious to me now that "Doktor" is just a German spelling for doctor. The imagery is definitely clearer and even wittier now. I can see the doctor priding himself on bringing her back to life and calling his success a miracle when all she really wanted was to die in the first place

Kayla Lesko said:

I thought something along those lines also.

Carissa: I don't know if you've thought about this before or not, but I thought the people she refers to - the Doktor, the Enemy, God, Lucifer - were all the same person. Once I thought about this possibility, the poem made much more sense because I saw it as a warning to this person specifically that he will eventually pay for what he's done to her.

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