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It makes sense that Sylvia Plath chose to use a central first-person point-of-view in her poem, â€œLady Lazarus,â€ which is exemplified in the following stanza: â€œI do it so it feels like hell. / I do it so it feels real. / I guess you could say Iâ€™ve a callâ€ (Plath 46-48). Although the narrator could be considered simply a character in the poem (which narrators typically are), in this case it is widely believed that Plath was in fact writing about herself and her own suicide attempts. Therefore, the use of first-person was a logical choice, as it â€œputs the reader inside the narratorâ€™s head, which allows for an intimate portrayal of thoughts and emotionsâ€ (Reilly). Even some typical disadvantages of writing in first-person, such as the â€œdanger of your narrative becoming self indulgent in the narratorâ€™s emotions,â€ or the fact that, â€œthe reader can only experience the world through that characterâ€™s eyes, and so you as a writer cannot share the thoughts and feelings of others, only your narratorâ€™s interpretation of themâ€ (Reilly), worked in Plathâ€™s favor regarding â€œLady Lazarus.â€ The same poem is intended to depict a very specific view of the world and her place in it, and it has no room for an outsiderâ€™s view or even any desire to consider one.
Plathâ€™s chosen narrative voice had a major influence on my experience when reading â€œLady Lazarus,â€ as the close proximity to her innermost feelings when she used immediate first-person created an intimacy that made me feel as if she was speaking directly to me. For example, in lines 10 -12, â€œPeel off the napkin / O my enemy / Do I terrify?â€ The result is chilling and disturbing, particularly considering that this may well have been the very effect Plath hoped to achieve. She wanted the reader to feel uncomfortable, as she was angry with her audience and blamed them for objectifying her, as evidenced in the following lines: â€œThe peanut-crunching crowd / Shoves in to see / Them unwrap me hand and foot- / The big strip teaseâ€ (26-29). Furthermore, even though it creates slightly more distance between the narrator and the reader, Plathâ€™s ancillary use of reflective first-person, or when â€œThe narrator tells the story after the events of the story have taken placeâ€ (Dunkelberg 81), remains extremely personal and adds to my feelings of unease when she writes, â€œThe second time I meant / To last it out and not come back at all. / I rocked shut / As a seashell. / They had to call and call / And pick the worms off me like sticky pearlsâ€ (37-42). To end, the authorâ€™s deft application of narrative voice (from beyond the grave!) sends a chill down my spine and pulls me completely into the poem when she states: â€œOut of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like airâ€ (82-84). Iâ€™m left wondering: Am I one of those men? Is my reading of this poem another of her resurrections?
Dunkelberg, Kendall. A Writerâ€™s Craft. E-book, Palgrave, 2017.
Plath, Sylvia. The Collected Poems. Harper & Row, 1981, poets.org, Academy of American Poets, https://poets.org/poem/lady-lazarus. Accessed: 17 Nov. 2019.
Reilly, Seb. â€œThe Advantages and Disadvantages of First-Person Perspective.â€ Thanet Writers, 2016, https://thanetwriters.com/essay/voice/the-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-first-person-perspective/. Accessed: 17 Nov. 2019.
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