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The Boot in the Face The Problem of the Holocaust in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath In the following essay I examine Plaths references to the Holocaust in light of her preoccupation with personal history and myth female victimization and the specter of nuclear war I will conclude that Plath does not simply reduce the atrocity of the Holocaust to metaphor but draws attention to the ambiguous and potentially dangerous interrelationship between myth history and poetry in the post-Holocaust world Sylvia Plaths poetry is generally judged on the contents of the posthumously published Ariel 1965 and often on a minority of poems within that volume such as Daddy 1962 and Lady Lazarus 1962 which are most striking because of their inclusion of references to the Holocaust Plaths whole oeuvre is frequently and superficially viewed as somehow tainted by the perceived egoism of her deployment of the Holocaust in these poems Such straightforward condemnation however disguises the difficulties surrounding any judgment of Plaths treatment of this material--difficulties which are clearly exhibited by the respected critic George Steiner who in 1965 applauded Daddy as The Guernica of modern poetry yet later in 1969 declared that the extreme nature of Plaths late poems left him uneasy Does any writer does any human being other than an actual survivor have the right to put on this death-rig It is important to study both why and how the Holocaust appears in Plaths poetry because our reaction to it as readers and the strategies Plath uses to approach it are tied to a wider problem relating to the place of the Holocaust in our culture If we understand this it is possible to place the disturbing appearance of the Holocaust in Plaths poems in its proper context and to see this effect as symptomatic of a more general problem she recognizes a conflict about the very uses of poetry itself The problem of Plaths utilization of the Holocaust can be
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