‘Mad Men’ Invokes a Jewy Sylvia Plath Poem

‘Mad Men’ Invokes a Jewy Sylvia Plath Poem May 7, 2012

Last night’s episode was titled “Lady Lazarus,” which fellow lit nerds will recognize as the title of a famous Sylvia Plath poem. Several of the characters’ lives had moments that seemed reminiscent of Plath’s own, including a small but meaningful turn by Alexis “Rory Gilmore” Bledel (pictured) as a depressed suburban wife who quietly tolerates her husband’s cheating. “Lady Lazarus” is full of religious symbolism – Lazarus rose from the dead, if you’ll remember – and also references to the Holocaust. I have selected a few sections from the poem (the whole thing, which you can find here, is absolutely worth reading) that particularly reminded me of the episode:

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

There’s a story (apocryphal, I think) about the wife of an SS office who had her lampshades made out of the skin of murdered Jews. The first and most obvious reference here is our friend Michael, the Jewish copywriter who told Peggy that he had been born in a concentration camp and that his mother died there.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

One of the big storylines of the episode was Megan’s realization that advertising, even though she’s good at it, isn’t her dream, and Don’s understated disappointment when she told him she wanted to quit and get back into acting. Their relationship feels very Father/Daughter at moments as things like their respective responses to Beatles’ Revolver highlight their generational gap. Megan was Don’s protegee in a way, and he feels her beginning to detach from him now that they no longer work together. Don’s true protegee, Peggy, was in fine form tonight as she rose, like Lazarus, and kicked ass at her job and stood up for herself.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Who has red hair and eats men like air? Hi, Joan Holloway!

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