Q. How does Plath portray the repression and control of women’s sexuality by men in “Lady Lazarus.”
Ans. Sylvia Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus” is a powerful exploration of how women’s bodies are objectified and commodified by men and how women’s sexuality is repressed and controlled by societal expectations.
Plath uses vivid and striking imagery to portray the objectification of women’s bodies by men. The speaker in the poem is a persona of Plath, actively describing herself as a “walking miracle” under the constant scrutiny and judgment of others.
Plath portrays herself as a spectacle, metaphorically representing how society often reduces women’s bodies to objects of male desire, admiring and judging them for their beauty and desirability.
Sylvia Plath emphasises how men control women’s bodies. The speaker in the poem is repeatedly “resurrected” after attempting suicide. It suggests that her body is not entirely her own but rather subject to the control and intervention of others.
In Lady Lazarus, the lines “my skin / Bright as a Nazi lampshade” can be understood as a metaphor for the objectification and dehumanization of women. By comparing her skin to a Nazi lampshade, Plath invokes the horrific and inhumane practice of the Nazis during the Holocaust.
They use the skin of victims to create various objects, including lampshades. This comparison serves to emphasize the dehumanization and degradation of the speaker.
By making this allusion, Plath draws a parallel between the treatment of women and Holocaust victims. This parallel implies that men exert oppression and control over women. It is akin to the systematic cruelty experienced by those who suffered during the Holocaust.
The female speaker’s skin, described as “bright,” implies that she has been stripped of her identity and agency. She is reduced to a mere object for men’s pleasure.
The metaphor of the Nazi lampshade highlights the extreme extent of the objectification and dehumanization of women. It serves as a powerful image that emphasizes the brutality and cruelty of the repression and control of women’s sexuality by men.
In this context, Plath uses the reference to the Holocaust to underscore the gravity of the situation and to demonstrate the severity of the power dynamics exhibited by men over women.
The poem refers to a “peanut-crunching crowd” watching the speaker. They find entertainment in her “dying.” This idea reinforces the control men have over women’s bodies.
The image of the crowd as “peanut-crunching” emphasizes their detachment and disinterest in the speaker’s suffering. It highlights that women’s bodies are mere objects of entertainment.
Plath emphasizes the objectification of women’s bodies by men through Holocaust imagery. The speaker compares herself to a “Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen,” This shows women as victims in a male-dominated system.
This comparison also suggests that the speaker’s suffering is not just a personal struggle but a reflection of the broader societal oppression of women.
Sylvia Plath through this image shows that what happened to the Jews is now happening with the woman. They are the victims of male atrocities.
Plath uses the imagery of fire and burning to further emphasize the repression and control of women’s sexuality by men. The speaker describes herself as “a smiling woman,” highlighting her outward appearance.
This facade forces her to hide her true emotions and desires to conform to societal expectations.
The speaker’s presentation as a “smiling woman” implies that she is putting on a facade or presenting a false version of herself to the world.
This could be interpreted as a response to societal pressure that demands women to be pleasant, cheerful, and accommodating even when the women are struggling or in pain. The adjective “smiling” may also suggest a kind of forced happiness or insincerity, symbolising the speaker’s repression and control.
The line “I am only thirty” reinforces the speaker’s pressure to meet certain expectations and milestones by a certain age. In many societies, women are expected to marry and have children before thirty.
By stating that she is “only” thirty, the speaker may be implying that she feels inadequate or ashamed for not meeting these expectations. This is another way women’s sexuality is repressed and controlled by societal norms.
Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” portrays the repression and control of women’s sexuality by men powerfully and provocatively. Through vivid imagery, the poem highlights how women’s bodies are objectified.
She also reveals the way societal expectations repress her sexuality. By doing so, Plath challenges traditional gender roles. She highlights the need for women to assert their agency and reclaim control over their bodies and sexuality.
In conclusion, Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” is a critique of the repression of women’s sexuality by men. Through her vivid imagery, metaphors, and allusions, Plath exposes the oppressive mechanisms that suppress women’s sexual agency and autonomy.
The poem’s speaker, Lady Lazarus, embodies a struggle for liberation and self-discovery. She transcends the suffocating societal norms that seek to dictate her identity and desires. By invoking the biblical figure of Lazarus, Plath emphasizes the resilience and strength of the female spirit.
Despite repeated attempts at subjugation, she continuously rises from the ashes, ready to challenge and defy the patriarchal order.
Ultimately, “Lady Lazarus” represents the indomitable power of women, a call for dismantling oppressive systems.