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Sylvia Plath: A Search for Self

Sylvia Plath: A Search for Self

The collective body of Sylvia Plath’s poetry demonstrates definitively her mastery of her craft. Plath has been criticized for her overtly autobiographical work and her suicidal pessimism, however, close study reveals that her poetry transcends categorization and has a voice uniquely her own. As Katha Pollit concluded in a 1982 Nation review, “by the time she came to write her last seventy or eighty poems, there was no other voice like hers on earth” (Wagner 1). In works such as “Lady Lazarus,” “Daddy,” and “Morning Song,” Plath relates her own painfully experiences in the form of dramatic monologues using a persona who eventually triumphs over adversity by regaining the self that had been lost before the struggle of the poem.

According to Plath, the narrator of “Lady Lazarus” has “the great and terrible gift of being reborn . . . she is the Phoenix, the libertarian spirit” (Wagner 71). In compact three-line stanzas, the speaker sardonically comments on her unique ability and its implications. Her tone demonstrates her boredom towards the attention paid to her by “the peanut-crunching crowd.” Unlike the Biblical Lazarus who is called forth from the grave by Jesus, Lady Lazarus is able to resurrect herself and so avoids the polarities of God and Lucifer. Neither of these figures is able to exact punishment for the atrocities that man heaps on man, so the speaker transfigures herself by reducing her body to ashes and reviving her life through flame. As Leonard Sanazaro points out, “This willfulness to arise and devour humankind in the form of a self-fulfilled deity points up the impotence of the traditional concepts of good and evil” (Wagner 90) Lady Lazarus transcends these boundaries.

The imagery used throughout the poem is associated with the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis in concentration camps during World War II. Plath addresses the inhumanity of the situation, using such phrases as “A cake of soap,/A wedding ring,/A gold filling” to represent a human being. Plath also alludes to the medical experimentation that was practiced by the Nazi doctors. Plath has often been criticized for relating her hardships to that of the Jews. After all, she grew up in a relatively stable and affluent home and received an excellent education; her suffering was in her mind. Plath said specifically that her poems had come:

Frankenstein as a Modern Cyborg?

Frankenstein as a Modern Cyborg?

The creature (“demon”) created by Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus occupies a space that is neither quite masculine nor quite feminine, although he is clearly both created as a male and desires to be in the masculine role. Judith Halberstam describes this in-between-ness as being one of the primary characteristics of the Gothic monster–being in a space that’s not easily classified or categorized, and therefore being rendered unintelligible and monstrous. Donna J. Haraway posits that the post-modern science fiction cyborg occupies a similar in-between space, or, perhaps, a non-space. Similarly, Cathy Griggs argues that the post-modern lesbian is linked to this notion of the cyborg. The lesbian is rendered monstrous in social discourse by her desire to ascend into the phallic privilege, connecting this in-between-ness as both a monstrous trait and a cybernetic one. Further, the transgender man (female-to-male) occupies a similar discursive space and provides us with a post-modern link to Frankenstein’s creature, as both are surgically constructed men, a construction that, in the eyes of society, renders them monstrous (particularly for trans-men who can’t pass). Frankenstein’s creature embodies gender transgression on two levels, both of which are the fuel for Victor’s horror: the first being the creature’s status as being a surgically constructed male, the second being Victor’s own gender transgression in co-opting the feminine trait of reproduction, transforming his laboratory into a virtual womb. Given the scientific origin of the creature, as well as both its and Victor’s unstable gender, is it possible that the modern Gothic monster pre-fi…

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…th. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Griggers, Cathy. “Lesbian Bodies in the Age of (Post)mechanical Reproduction.” Fear of a Queer Planet. Ed. Michael Warner. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993. 178-192.

Halberstam, Judith. Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Second ed. Durham: Duke UP, 1995.

Haraway, Donna J. “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others.” Cultural Studies. Eds. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson and Paula A. Treichler. New York: Routledge, 1992. 295-337.

Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. 1983 ed. New York: The Penguin Group, 1963.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso, 1989.

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