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Lady and Duchess: A Comparison of Monologues, Essay Example

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Essay

Many people would probably not associate the poems “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath and “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. Plath’s poem is an ironic meditation on the nature of gender-oppression, medical tyranny, suicide and genocide, while Browning’s poem is a narrative that seems to elevate the power of male dominance over woman. The not so obvious connection between the two poems rests on two primary factors: first, that both poems are dramatic monologues and second, that both poems use the dramatic monologue form to address the nature of the objectification of women by men. Both poems create a sense of the horrific which accompanies a cultural or political view that reduces women to the role of “property” or servitude in human society. Therefore both poems forward the theme of sexual objectification as it relates to male dominance over women.

Plath’s poem places an obvious emphasis on the theme of the objectification of women. Plath accomplishes this throughout the poem by comparing her self and her body to inanimate objects. And in addition to using inanimate objects as aspects of the imagery and figurative language of the poem, Plath also uses aspects of her own life as autobiographical confession in the poem. After using the poem as a vehicle for self-confession, she also portrays herself as performing for various male-dominated authority figures by killing herself again and again and rising from the dead for their amusement. Jeffrey Meyers in his article “Plath’s “Lady Lazarus”” (2012) writes that the entire poem is founded on a sense of paradox. the key paradox in the poem relates to the way that the speaker of the poem seems to invert the normal meanings of life and death. By doing so, the poem functions as a rejection of “normal” society and life. In rejecting society, Plath’s speaker is also rejecting the male objectification of women.

According to Meyers, the poem’s central paradox is the way in which Plath drives home her ironic commentaries on the nature of contemporary society and specifically the objectification of women by men in power.  Meyers writes that “The paradox of the poem is that for Plath life itself is a kind of death […] She defines suicide as an art, a calling, a religious vocation” (Meyers). The reason that she has inverted the normal expectations of life and death is due to the previously mentioned objectification she has experienced in her own self-reflective reality. She has internalized the world of objectification and must die in order to be reborn free of the “non-being” that is part of the way men expect women to be treated in response to objectification.  In the poem, Plath identifies specific enemies and they are all male.

Meyers points out that Plath’s use of holocaust imagery corresponds to her criticism of the medical industry and specifically the psychiatric industry.  In the poem, Plath identifies the psychiatrists and other doctors who tried to save her from her real-life suicidal tendencies as enemies. She relates them to the Nazis of War two. Meyers writes “Plath links Herr Doktor, who conducted ghastly medical experiments in the extermination camps, with Herr Enemy, who saved her life when she wanted to die.” (Meyers) In the end, after dying for the amusement of her male oppressors again and again, the narrator of the poem rises form her last death as a fiery goddess who devours men like they were nothing more than air. The movement of the poem emotionally is from submissive objectification to bold liberation. The poem also moves from a feeling of helplessness to a feeling of empowerment, primarily through its irony.

The autobiographical elements of the poem help to give it weight and resonance. however, the tragic part of the  poem is that it is an optimistic statement that  did not reflect what actually happened in Plath’s life. While the poem shows Plath’s ability to envision self-empowerment and liberation from the objectification of a male-dominated society, in life, plath proved to be less capable of attaining self-liberation. instead, she killed herself, tragically not long after writing the poem.  Meyers mentions that although the poem is, itself,  rooted in irony, the greatest irony of all is how the poem relates to Plath’s life. He remarks that “the horrible irony is that we know […] She finally killed herself, only three months after she wrote this poem in her last rush of inspiration, in February 1963″ (Meyers). Plath’s poem, and her life show the impact of male-oppression and tyranny over women.

A similar dynamic is found in Browning’s “My Last Duchess.” However, this poem, also in dramatic monologue shows the male-side of the objectification of women. In this poem, the narrator’s attitude toward women is sexual and murderous: he both desires women as objectifications of life and power, but he fears their reality. Efird  writes that the Duchess in the poem is symbol of male objectification. He asserts that “The male fantasy of the courtly lady, given much treatment in the medieval heyday of the troubadour, takes as its object the sublimated image of a female object of desire […] as a male narcissistic fantasy.” (Efird)  The poem shows that women are merely objects of ownership and gazing.

The reason for this objectification as revealed through the poem is that the speaker of the poem both desired the murdered Duchess but could not bear to actually possess her.  Efird writes of the Duke’s act of murder that it “is the result of his misrecognition of the extent of her romantic commitment to him, as well as of the attempt to preserve the moment of commitment eternally” (Efird). The fact that in both “Lady Lazarus” and “My Last Duchess” women are made to die to please and entertain men, shows that both poems are dealing overtly with the theme of female objectification. Obviously, Plath’s poem is an obvious outcry from the feminine point of view that is steeped in black humor and irony. Browning’s poem is more of a haunting record of the way in which the male objectification of women stands at the heart of how power and justice and vision are understood in the Western world.

Works Cited

Efird, Tyler. “”Anamorphosizing” Male Sexual Fantasy in Browning’s Monologue.” Mosaic (Winnipeg) 43.3 (2010): 151+.

Meyers, Jeffrey. “Plath’s “Lady Lazarus”” Notes on Contemporary Literature 42.3 (2

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