Daddy by Sylvia Plath Questions and Answers 2/5/10/15

Daddy by Sylvia Plath Questions and Answers 2/5/10/15


1. Theme

[Q. Would death be a theme in Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy”? Or, Q. What are Plath’s references to Germans and Jews in “Daddy” and how does Plath use these groups to convey the theme? Or, Q. In “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath, how is the theme of loneliness developed?][Daddy by Sylvia Plath Questions and Answers 2/5/10/15]

In regards to the most important themes in ‘Daddy’, one should consider the conversation Plath has in the text about the oppressive nature of her father/daughter relationship. The theme of freedom from oppression, or from captivity is prevalent throughout this text, and others Plath wrote. Despite her father’s death, she was obviously still held rapt by his life and how he lived. That being said, life and death should also be considered important themes within Plath’s ‘Daddy’. Without her father living as he did, and dying when he did while Plath was quite young, this poem would not exist as it does.

Gender and Oppression

The poem’s speaker has been enthralled by her father since childhood yet comes to realize that his legacy is one of violence and oppression. She spends the poem breaking free from his hold over her, but the poem is not solely about this one, specific relationship. Instead, the speaker’s relationship to her father’s memory can be thought of as representative of the broader power imbalance between men and women in a patriarchal society, or a society in which men hold most positions of political, social, and moral authority. The poem implies that such a world subjects women to repressive rules and violence at the hands of men, limiting their autonomy, self-expression, and freedom.

The first indication that the poem is addressing patriarchy is through its title. By addressing “Daddy” (rather than “father” or “dad”), Plath immediately sets up a dynamic in which a male figure is venerated, literally located at the top of the poem, while the female speaker is infantilized; she is an adult addressing her father with a child’s vocabulary, trying to communicate with him through the sing-song cadence of a nursery rhyme.

The speaker then describes the oppressive shadow of her father’s memory by comparing herself to a foot that has lived inside a “black shoe … for thirty years,” too scared to even breathe. In other words, she has been completely smothered by the presence of her father, who is further described as a colossal statue, heavy as “marble” or “a bag full of God.” All of these descriptors emphasize the sheer weight and breadth of the speaker’s father even in memory, which seems to press down upon the speaker years after his death. This speaks to his personal hold on her, but

also to the figurative force of the oppression faced by women in a male-dominated world.

Because of this oppression, the speaker has felt unable to communicate with, let alone stand up to, her father throughout her life. Not only has she “Barely dar[ed] to breathe” for thirty years, but her “tongue” has been “stuck in [her] jaw in a barb wire snare.” This image emphasizes the sheer violence of her father’s hold over her, which denies her any ability to express herself. The poem thus presents the inability to communicate as one clear byproduct of oppression.

Throughout the poem the speaker also explicitly conflates her father with the Nazis, and begins to identify herself with the Jewish people-a response which reveals her feelings of utter powerlessness against her father. The Nazis were Fascists authoritarians who violently squashed any dissent-and this controversial comparison is meant to again highlight the brutality of her father’s presence, something the speaker implies she was actually to cow to.

Indeed, the speaker even makes the extreme, seemingly offhand comment that “Every woman adores a Fascist.” This not only draws attention to the power imbalance between men and women, but to the normalization of violence against women violence that is so woven into every aspect of society that women can only be seen to “adore” their oppressors. In other words, this oppression is so commonplace, so accepted, that it is hard for victims to even recognize it, let alone fight back.

To that end, the speaker makes “a model” of her father and marries him. The husband is described as having “a Meinkampf look” and “a love of the rack and the screw,” two images which attest to his violent and oppressive nature. This husband also becomes a “vampire,” draining the speaker of blood for seven years-a metaphor for the way marriage, under patriarchy, robs a woman of any life of her own. Moving from her father to another man has done nothing to free the speaker, because she is still living within an oppressive world that treats her as subservient to the men in her life.

Only in recognizing the patriarchal violence and oppression present in her marriage and asserting that she’s “finally through” can the speaker metaphorically drive a stake through her father’s heart. In other words, she is not only freeing herself of her oppressive marriage, but of the kind of gendered dynamic modeled to her by her father. In this way the poem argues that the only way to fight patriarchal oppression is to recognize and expose its many, shapeshifting forms.


There is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of “Daddy.” The poet needs to kill her father in order to liberate herself from her love for him, yet she needs to tell her father that she has killed him in order for her to satisfy that need to kill him. Thus she needs to have him alive for her in order to experience for herself his death. Killing him is, in actuality, her way of showing her anger at a need for him that she does not experience as being gratified. Power and Myth-Making

“Daddy” deals with the deification and mythologizing of authority figures. It does this through the lens of the speaker’s individual relationship with her father as well as through the historic lens of the Holocaust. In order to see her father clearly, for who he really was, the speaker first needs to puncture her godlike image of him. Likewise, Nazi authority is revealed to be vulnerable-dependent on people believing in the propaganda that mythologized it. The poem demonstrates that people are subject to authoritarian power when they believe themselves to be powerless and the authority to be absolute and that they change this dynamic by puncturing the illusions that sustain it.

Having lost her father to illness at a young age, the speaker develops an obsession with him that follows her into adulthood. The speaker’s father “died before [she] had time-” to see him for who he really was, and because of this the speaker has been trapped inside a childlike perception of her father as godlike. Over the years, her memory of him seems only to have grown in its oppressive power, and she realizes she must destroy her godlike image of him in order to be free. She thus confesses to her father that she has had to “kill” him-or rather, the idea of him which has held her in thrall. 10

To do so is difficult, however. The speaker struggles to see her father clearly, saying “I never could tell where you / Put your foot, your root.” This image illustrates both her father’s vague identity in the speaker’s mind and the speaker’s sense of his omnipresence, his godlike ability to be everywhere at once-“I thought every German was you.” This difficulty in pinpointing the man while also being surrounded by the myth of him speaks to her growing understanding that to see him clearly would rob him of his power over her. 

The speaker goes on to compare her relationship to her father to the relationship between Jewish people and Nazis during the Holocaust. This comparison not only illuminates her own struggle but illustrates the ways in which power and authority are vulnerable to people’s belief in them.

The speaker describes being scared of her father’s “Luftwaffe” and “gobbledygoo”-on the one hand, the very real physical force represented by the Luftwaffe (the German air force), and on the other hand, the mythology broadcast by their propaganda system, a mythology that-when looked at closely-was nothing but gobbledygoo (nonsense).

She also fears her father’s “Aryan eye, bright blue.” The singular use of “eye” refers more to a watchful, authoritarian presence than to a literal pair of eyes. Likewise, during WWII people were paralyzed by the thought of attracting Nazi attention, behaving every moment as if they were being watched, thus reinforcing Nazi control. Recognizing the fallacy of her father’s power-“Not God,” an actual deity,

“but a swastika,” an empty symbol-the speaker invokes the symbol of the Nazi regime, underlining the fact that in order for a symbol of authority to work, it has to be “So black no sky could squeak through.” In other words, it must block out all light, hope, and truth. The moment one begins to see through the illusion, to the truth of what’s behind it, the symbol loses its power.

Thus only when the speaker is finally able to see her father for who he is, to puncture her illusion of him as a godlike authority, does she free herself of his power. The speaker describes a picture she has of her father in which he stands at a blackboard, apparently teaching a class, a picture which points to his supposed authority. The speaker, however, finally recognizes that he is “No less a devil” just because the image conceals his true nature. The poem ends with the speaker asserting her freedom-“Daddy, daddy, you bastard I’m through”-an assertion she can make because she no longer buys into the myth of him.


Implicitly, “Daddy” is a poem of purgation, written to liberate the poet from the ghost of her relationship with her father. Purgation through an act of murdering the pollutant is the overt method of cleansing Plath speaks of in the poem, but it appears that writing the poem is in itself the real purgative action. The poet, by writing her situation and separating her psychic tangles, is attempting to achieve and enact the power to govern and define her psychic reality herself, taking the power back from her father.


Resentment, broken down into its components, means to feel again. The person who reveals herself as the speaker of “Daddy” is haunted and driven by resentment. Feelings that might have expired still breathe within her and determine her overall emotional condition, which is resentment against her father. The poem itself is an expression of that resentment, not an attempt to extirpate it but to satisfy it. Plath’s real-life suicide a few months after composing the poem shows that resentment, when it festers, cannot be satisfied. It can only be momentarily allayed, but it recharges and demands repeated release.

Death and Memory

The speaker, traumatized by the death of her father at an early age, develops an obsession with mortality. She dreams of bringing her father back to life, and when her prayers don’t work, she even tries to join him in death. When even her attempt at suicide fails, she chooses to bring her father back to life metaphorically in the form of a husband who resembles him. The poem does not seem to have an explicit stance on death, however, and instead seems more to explore the devastating effects such an obsession has on the speaker. While, on the one hand, the poem can be read as a broad call to puncture authoritarian myths and free oneself from patriarchal oppression, on a more personal level it simply speaks to the pain and confusion surrounding the death of a rather toxic parent-and perhaps to the importance of eventually moving on.

The speaker’s father dies when she is just ten years old, and the trauma of this event has lingered ever since. The poem is filled with images of death and decay, as can be seen when the speaker deems her father a “Ghastly statue with one grey toe / Big as a Frisco seal.” This is an allusion to Plath’s real-life father, who developed gangrene of the foot and eventually died from diabetes complications. Clearly, it is the image of her father’s dying which stays with the speaker, and therefore it is death on which she begins to fixate.

The speaker “pray[s]” to bring him back, as any child who has lost a parent likely would, and when that fails she attempts suicide: “At twenty I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you.” She survives the attempt, metaphorically “pulled out of the sack” and pushed back into her life. Yet she is never the same; she has been “stuck… together with glue,” implying a newfound sense of fragility and brokenness upon having failed to reunite with her father.

The speaker then decides rather than trying to reach her father through death, she will bring him back to life in the form of a husband. The speaker thus makes “a model” of her father and marries him. This husband, however, turns out to be just as unhealthy for her as her fixation on the memory of her father’s death. She claims that her husband is a vampire who drank her blood-her life force-for seven years. This image attests to the unhealthiness of the marriage, which drains the speaker of life in much the same way her father’s memory does.

It is clear that, in order to rid herself of the traumatic hold her father’s death has on her, the speaker must entirely close the door on this chapter of her life. She does this through ending her marriage to her husband, an act which she likens to killing a man. The speaker claims, “If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two-“, referring to the power both her husband and her father’s memory had over her.

By metaphorically bringing her father back to life through marriage, the speaker is able to exercise control over a set of events which initially left her feeling scared and helpless. Her marriage acts as a re-enactment of her relationship with her father, except this time she is an adult and is given the time she needs to see the relationship clearly. When the speaker chooses to end her marriage, she does so knowing that it will destroy her father’s memory as well, an act which allows her to finally break free of her unhealthy fixation with death and move on with her life.


“Every woman adores a Fascist, / The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you” has become one of the best known lines not just from this poem but from the entirety of the Plath canon. It gives expression to a fundamental masochism Plath asserts is an inherent component of an abstract, female psyche. Whether the assertion is actually true or not, it is a governing defense for the attitude

of the poet and a fundamental explanation of her malaise. She loves a father who not only did not reciprocate that love, but whose manner towards her was such that the only thing she could attach her love for him to was his cruelty. She is in the paradoxical situation of seeing herself as an archetypal victim, symbolized by the image of the Jews who were carried to extermination in cattle cars. At the same time as she is being destroyed, she is erotically overwhelmed by the power that is destroying her, wishing, against her will, to submit to it for the strange frisson such surrender can offer. Love for her father has become the dominant mechanism of her libidinal interest. Her identification with his power to obliterate her leads her to attempt suicide. When that fails, she finds a more subtle method of self obliteration, spite: “And then I knew what to do. / I made a model of you, / A man in black with a Meinkampf look / And a love of the rack and the screw. / And I said I do, I do.” She deliberately recapitulated her father, particularly in his brutal aspects, in a husband. But her choice is not a pure exercise of masochism. She was setting up for herself the opportunity to accomplish her father’s death by killing her husband, whom she describes, with masochistic relish at her power to withstand assault as she experiences it-“The vampire who said he was you / And drank my blood for a year, / Seven years if you want to know.” The masochism she perversely celebrates is a cover under which she hides her own sadistic wishes.

2. The Significance of the Title

[Q. Justify the appropriateness of the title Daddy.]

The first two stanzas of the poem “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath are deceptively simple and sound more like a strange nursery rhyme than an angry depiction of the speaker’s father. An analysis of the straight rhyme scheme in “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath lulls the reader into a hypnotic state and the language is relatively free from the kind of ominous and dark imagery and terms that will arrive as the poem by Sylvia Plath progresses. This nursery rhyme’s innocence is obliterated quickly with each and with the images and language of Nazism and several weighty references to horrible wars.

Although the reader of the poem gets the impression of the “daddy” depicted in the poem by Sylvia Plath, he does not exist outside of images of men from history or historical photographs. He is, in many senses, a bland character rather unworthy of analysis since there is nothing that separates him a common Nazi-or even Hitler himself. In this sense, the father in “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath cannot be viewed outside of these images from history and thus he loses any realistic character traits in favor of this more generic description of a “typical” fascist.

The only image of the speaker’s father in “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath the reader is given that is original, that is, outside of stereotyped images of Nazis or soldiers, is the rather absurd picture of a man comes in one of the important set of lines in “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath, “Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, / Ghastly statue with one gray toe / Big as a Frisco seal.” While it may not make sense for the speaker to

combine such images as a heavy bad, a grim statue, and a giant seal, it is important to point out that these are all weighty and gray objects or images.

It would be easy to think at this early stage of analysis of “Daddy” by Syliva Plath that this is simply because the man is portly, but as the poem by Sylvia Plath continues it seems as though she is conjuring up a different kind of weight for the reader-a spiritual weight. The color gray is in some ways a heavy color itself since it is often associated with dark full rain clouds and the “panzers” (German tanks) that were gray and heavy as well. By setting the tone and “color” of the poem early on, the reader is more prepared for the added weight of an oppressive history and its associated images.

The heaviness is also expressed by Sylvia Plath’s use of images such as rollers that “scrape flat” German and Polish towns and even the German language itself is used to convey a sense of weight and history as it is notoriously thick and requires that the tongue remain depressed for a number of words. The first part of the poem by Sylvia Plath is preparing the reader for the more intense and even painful images that are about to ensue with the lines “It stuck in a barb wire snare / ich, ich, ich, ich, / I could hardly speak / I thought every German was you.”

Here the speaker, without a great deal of analysis into the words themselves, finds the language oppressive and difficult to speak which further enhances the reader’s sense of weight. More importantly, the fact that the speaker thinks every German is her father is important because this recognizes that her conception of him is based in the same stereotypical images from history the reader is likely to conjure up without a thought-images from the second World War that are recognizable as such but the faces of all the men might as well be the same.

When the speaker mentions that she thinks every German is her father this also indicates that she feels that the German people themselves are part of this unpleasant heaviness and even their language binds and constrains her. This is a more disturbing side to any poetry analysis of “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath because it places the reader in that uncomfortable place of “lumping together” groups of people, just as happened in this disastrous period in history.

There is the sense one gets from even a basic analysis of “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath” that all Germans are the same and can be lumped together by cause of a common history (and in this case, a very tragic and unfortunate history) continues when the narrator, when trying to think of her father considers those German and Polish towns that had been “scraped flat” by the roller of “wars wars wars” and can only think, “But the name of the town is common. / My Polack friend / Says there are a dozen or two. / So I never could tell where you / Put your foot, your root.” With so much sameness, especially as the poem progresses and all Germans are seen to her to be implicated in this Nazi-infused historical imagination, the true description of her father becomes lost, save for the fact that the reader realizes he’s as “big as a Frisco seal.”

All other images are closely associated with a stereotypical version and image of history-one in black and white-, which could be another reason why the poem by Sylvia Plath is so consciously devoid of color. The full weight of history the “German implications” in this poem are under the surface and require teasing apart through careful analysis for the first several stanzas and the country’s (and presumably her father’s) Nazi past is only hinted at as she prepares the reader by setting up the gray and the images of weight. When the narrator does finally integrate the Nazi imagery into the poem, there is little warning. Her new stanza badly begins (although still in that ironic sing-songy nursery rhyme tone) “An engine, an engine, / Chuffing me off like a Jew. / A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. / I began to talk like a Jew. I think I may well be a Jew.”

If there had existed any doubt in the reader’s mind about her intentions to relate the negative side of German history, this stanza would have convinced one otherwise. There are no complicated metaphorical allusions or subtle wordplay, the narrator of this poem by Sylvia Plath comes right out with it and names the unspeakableDachau, Auschwitz, Belsen which not only break any sense of rhyme, but intrude heavily on the subtlety that came before it. Out of the live sentences in this stanza, three of them end with the word “Jew” and this is directly in opposition with the names of the three camps mentioned ahead in between.

The full weight of a sad history is expressed in this poem and although it begins with open simplicity and a childlike tone, the subject matter is the stuff of nightmares rather than anything near innocent. In fact, while the nursery rhyme nearly charms the reader for the first two or three stanzas, by the end of the poem it can be seen as nothing more than cruel literary irony. It almost seems to have been enough that the images were gray and dark throughout the beginning but the poem only sinks further into the deepest, most hellish depths of the historical imagination.

Without photographs and vivid accounts of WWII and the many other forms of communication during that period, this may have been a much different poem since much of the impact lies within the associations the reader makes with a stores set of images of what a “Nazi should look like” and in the end, perhaps it should at least make the reader recognize that they may be prone to lumping together history in the attempt to for a solid picture-albeit a dim gray one.

The title of this poem sets its tone from the outset. “Daddy” typically is a name that a child first calls her parents. It is colloquial, lacking the formality and implied respect of “Father.” The poem’s first line is insistent, frustrated, and full of repetitive sounds, all of which are sustained to the poem’s end. It is what one might expect from an angry child or in an incantation – single-syllable words repeated with a single-minded purpose. The “Achoo” at the stanza’s end also is a word that a child might use instead of the word “sneeze.”

Critics have commented on the poem’s nursery-rhyme-like sound, some believing

it marvelously appropriate in light of the childhood reflections, others deeming it a disaster in light of the poem’s horrific rage. The poem begins: You do not do, you do not do Any more, black shoe In which I have lived like a foot For thirty years, poor and white, Barely daring to breathe or Achoo. At the beginning of the second line there is a switch, which can easily be missed because it is so short and easily rushed over due to the quickness of the poem. But this switch is an early indication of the narrator’s own shifting perspectives. “You do not do, you do not do / Any more,” the author says.

The words “Any more,” reveal that this narrator’s Daddy was, at some point, acceptable to her. Now we see that, at the age of thirty (in fact, Plath wrote this just before turning thirty), the narrator is rejecting, the life her father made for her, wherein she had no chance to enjoy its riches and was barely able to live. She sees him as black and herself as white; on a basic level they can be no further apart. At the same time, the narrator is saying she no longer wants to be poor, barely able to breathe and, seemingly, white. But if she doesn’t want to be white, the alternative, then, is to be less white and more like him.

As the poem progresses, such conflicts grow fierce. Some critics have questioned whether the intenseness of the daughter’s raw anger at her father actually can coexist with her need for him. Freud and many observers of humanity have answered yes. So the title ‘Daddy’ is quite suggestive of the fact that the father of the poetess is portrayed all over the poem.

3. The Structure – As A Confessional Poem [Q. Discuss the structure of Plath’s confessional poem ‘Daddy’. Or, Q. Evaluate Sylvia Plath’s Daddy as a confessional poem. Or, Q. What are the tones and attitudes in Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”? Or, Q. Discuss Plath’s use of the techniques of confessional poetry in “Daddy.”

Or, Q. How can Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy” be described as an elegy?]

“Daddy” is a poem whose grammatical mode is the declarative sentence used in the service of the assertions that give the poem both its strength and its ambiguity, for the assertions, from the first “You do not do” to “They always knew it was you,” as strongly and elaborately delivered as they are, are presented without substantiation.

Rhyme is usually a phenomenon that occurs at the end of a line when the sound of one word at a line’s end echoes the sound of another word ending a previous line. Assonance and consonance are varieties of rhyme that appear inside the lines of a poem. They occur when vowel sounds (assonance) and consonant sounds (consonance) repeat, reflect, or suggest each other throughout the body of a poem. In “Daddy,” Plath relies heavily on both these sorts of internal rhymes.

Most prominent is the “oo” sound, introduced emphatically in the first line, that

dominates the aural texture of the poem. But even a cursory perusal of the poem reveals such combinations as “In which I have lived like a foot.” where the sound of the short “i” is prominent, “v” and “I” are repeated, as are the related “t” and “d.” Just about every line will yield to such aural analysis.


Onomatopoeia refers to the use of a sound to signify the thing that makes that sound. “Daddy” is replete with it, starting with the last word of the first stanza, and occurring in words like “chuffing” and “scraped,” and “gobbledygoo.” Repetition

Plath uses repetition throughout “Daddy,” beginning in the first line of the poem, where the first four words are repeated exactly and continuing the technique with variations, as in “In the German tongue, in the Polish town,” or “I could hardly speak / I thought every German,” or the number of lines beginning with “I.” Repetition gives the poem a rhythm of insistence that reflects the intensity of the narrator’s obsession with her subject, her father.

M. L. Rosenthal first applied the term ‘confession’ to Robert Lowell’s work. One definition of what makes a poem ‘confessional’ is offered by Irving Howe, who argues that a ‘confessional poem would seem to be one in which the writer speaks to the reader, telling him, without the mediating presence of imagined event or persona, something about his life. The first poem that was called ‘confessional’ was Snodgrass’ ‘Heart’s Needle’, which provided a model of truthfulness. Before then, the subject matter of poetry implicitly included little of the poet’s private life, instead focusing upon public Issues using a detached persona. The new confessional poems removed the mask that poets had been hiding behind and provided an insight into the private lives of the poets.

However, upon close study it is clear to recognize the differences as well as similarities between the confessional poets and their poems. The label ‘confessional poetry’ oversimplifies and undervalues the nature of the poetry of Lowell, Sexton and Plath. While these poems frequently engage in what is repressed, hidden and falsified, defining them as ‘confessional’ undermines the creative ability of the writer to construct a persona Or imaginary scenario that is separate from their lives.

Critics have argued whether or not the poems of Lowell, Sexton and Plath are ‘confessional’. M. L. Rosenthal argued that Plath was a confessional poet because she ‘followed Lowell’s autobiographical method in Life Studies. Likewise, Edward Butscher argues that ‘Plath’s confessionalism was the ultimate goal of her poetic career. Howe also describes Plath’s ‘Lady Lazarus’ as a ‘confessional’ poem because it discusses her recurrent suicide attempts. Nevertheless, Howe criticises much of Plath’s poetry for being self-indulgent, describing ‘Daddy’ as a ‘revenge fantasy’ rather than ‘confessional.

Howe separates Plath from the ‘confessional’ category because he claims that

she has ‘abandoned the sense of audience’ in favour of self-indulgence. In stark contrast to this, Rosenblatt argues that while Plath’s later poems were influenced by life experiences, her poetry does not depend on its confessional nature. Rosenblatt states that while these poems begin with an autobiographical situation they exist by themselves and can be read and understood in most cases without biographical information. Rather than directly using her experience in the poems, Plath frequently uses elements from her experience as the starting point for imagistic and thematic elaborations.

In her earlier poems, Plath appeared to repress certain themes that were influential on the imagery of her poems. Later, however, Sylvia ‘begins to tell the truth. In ‘The Colossus’ Plath presents the image of her father, but not the full extent of her feelings toward him, which are revealed in ‘Daddy’. While she both loves and hates her father in ‘The Colossus’, it is in ‘Daddy’ that Plath unleashes her hatred upon him. Expanding on the reality of her experience, Plath’s persona is at conflict with her father because he is German, and she is a Jew. Robert Phillips’ argument that ‘Daddy’ is ‘a poem of total rejection’ is reinforced by Plath’s line ‘Daddy, I have had to kill you. However, more controversially, it has been argued that Plath is sexually obsessed with her father.

Some critics have suggested that the ‘black shoe’ in which she has ‘lived like a foot’ is a phallic symbol that proves her incestuous desires. In the poem, Plath moves from desiring her father, fearing him, to hating him. The suggestion of incest is embellished in Plath’s implication that she married a man just like her father: ‘I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look And a love of the rack and the screw. And I said I do, I do.’ This reference appears to apply to Plath in her statement that she was married to this man for seven years. However, just as her relationship with Ted is over, Plath tells her father: ‘Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.’

Like in ‘Daddy’, Plath addresses a German ‘Herr’ in ‘Lady Lazarus’, where she addresses the hidden theme of suicide. Plath’s uses of first person narration imply that it is her who has ‘done it again’. Like Sexton, Plath frankly admits that this is not her first suicide attempt – ‘This is Number Three. However, at the end of the poem the speaker undergoes a rebirth that enables her to eat men like air. In comparison, Plath explains the oppressive treatment that women receive in society in her poem, ‘The Applicant’. Like Sexton, Plath is tired of domestic servitude and the emphasis that is placed upon women’s appearance.

Plath emphasizes that a person will not be accepted by society unless they are ‘our sort of person. The purpose of a woman is to ‘do whatever you tell it’ or to ‘marry it’. Plath points out the patronising treatment of women with her line ‘Come here, sweetie’, showing that a woman is treated like a dog, or a living doll rather than an independent human being. The qualities that are valued in women are sewing, cooking and talking, as well as the obvious requirement of looking attractive.

4. As A Psychological Poem

[Q. Discuss elaborately Plath’s Daddy from a psychological point of view of the speaker.]

This poem is a very strong expression of resentment against the male domination of women and also the violence of all kinds for which man is responsible. The speaker expresses her rage against her ‘daddy’, but daddy himself is a symbol of male. As well as a symbol of more general agents and forces like science and reason, violence and war, the German and theirs Hitler, and all other “inhuman” agents of oppression in the world. The speaker is also a symbol of female and the creative force, humility, love and humanity in general.

This poem can also be analyzed from a psychological point of view. It is the outpour of a neurotic anger through the channel of creative art, or poetry. It is a kind of therapy. The poem is also significant for its assonance, allusion and images. Though it is slightly autobiographical, the poem must be interpreted symbolically and psychologically without limiting it to the poetess’s life and experiences also.

The poem begins with the angry attack on daddy: “you”, “black shoe”, “I have had to kill you”. The name -calling continues: daddy is a ghostly statue, a seal, a German, Hitler himself, a man-crushing engine, a tank driver (Panzer man), a swastika symbol of the Nazi, a devil, a haunting ghost and vampire, and so on. The speaker has lived for thirty years, poor and white, as in the Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War. She is not able to breathe or express her pain. Her tongue is stuck in her jaw, or in the barbell wires. She is always scared of daddy or the German images of terror. She feels like a Jew herself. She feels she is crushed under the roller as the Polish were killed by the German in 1941.

She is afraid of the German language that is obscene and vague. She remembers the concentration camps like Dachan, Auschwitz and Belsen where thousands of Jews were tortured and killed. She feels she is a descendant of a gypsy ancestress (ancient mother). She is afraid of the neat mustache like that of Hitler, and the Aryan eye. The image of a boot in the face comes to her troubled mind. She thinks her daddy had a brutish (savage) black heart. She remembers the image of a strict teacher near the blackboard, which is also her father’s image. She was ten when he died. But she wanted to kill him again, and throw him out of her mind. She also tried to die herself, but they prevented her. Then she made an effigy or (model) of him and killed it. She had killed him and his vampire that drank her blood for seven years. She claims that all the villagers also hated and still hate him. So, he can go back and die forever. She calls him a bastard.

The extremity of anger in this poem is not justifiable as something possible with a normal person in real life. We should understand that this is partly due to the neurosis that Plath was actually suffering from. Besides, it is essential to understand from the psychoanalytic point of view, the poem does not literally express reality alone: it is the relieving anger and frustration, and an alternative outlet of the

neurotic energy in the form of poetic expression. Furthermore, it is necessary to understand the anger as being directed against the general forces of inhumanity, violence and destruction only symbolized by ‘daddy’. In fact, Plath’s father loved her very much when she was a child, before he died when she was only eight. So her death was always a shock to her. But, while she felt tortured and destitute without her father, she also felt suppressed by her father’s dominating image. The idea is mixed and complex. She said, “He was an autocrat… I adored and despaired him, and I probably wished many times that he were dead”.

The poem moves far beyond the father-daughter team if we read carefully. By a process of association and surrealism, the protest moves from father to Hitler and then to inhumanity and oppression. Sylvia Plath also said that “the personal experience is very important, but…. I believe (poetry) should be relevant to larger things such as Hiroshima and Dachau and so on.” This means that the frustration and anger against a dominating father who left her a destitute has here become a starting point or central symbol for larger issues including Hitler, torture and inhumanity. The poem is, therefore, also about the victimization of modern war. The poem is only slightly autobiographical, but it is more general.

The theme of female protest is perhaps the most striking symbolic meaning in the poem. The female speaker represents the creative force and she is angry with the destructive forces symbolized by her daddy and the male. But, we should also see the poem as a psychological poem that allows the speaker to relieve her neurotic energy through the channel of creativity. The speaker says, “I’m trough”, meaning “I’m satisfied” at the end. She is relieved. The allusions of the Second World War are all real. The anger against the German, soldiers, Hitler and his Nazi party is not too much. The reader will justify this anger if he tries to imagine the inhumanity of Hitler.

Judging from the biographical history of this poem, Plath’s victory could only be a pyrrhic one. She wrote “Daddy” on 12 October 1962, four months before her suicide, fifteen days before her thirtieth birthday, on the twentieth anniversary of her father’s leg amputation (alluded to in the poem, lines 9-10) and on the day she learned that Ted Hughes, the alleged “vampire” who drank her blood for seven years (73-74), had agreed to a divorce. The year 1961-62 was also the time of the trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann, to which the concentration camp imagery in Plath’s poem may allude.

Thus, personal as well as historical victimization and attempted vindication are dramatized in Plath’s poem. But just as the execution of Eichmann as a war criminal could bring only partial justice to the Jews who were exterminated in the death camps, and just as the stake in the vampire’s “fat black heart” would only prevent the undead from causing further misery, the speaker in Plath’s “Daddy,” her memories of alleged victimization echoing in every broken and repeated nursery-sounding rhyme, can achieve only a partial victory over the “man who / Bit my pretty red heart in two”.

[Q. Research the subject of feminism and present a report to your class describing what the expectations were that shaped the roles males and females were expected to play in society. How does “Daddy” reflect, or not reflect, feminism and traditional gender roles?

5. Feminism and Gender Roles in Daddy

Or, q. Would you consider Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” to be an expression against the voice of patriarchy? Comment critically. Or, Q. Analyze the poem “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath using feminist theory.]

The poem Daddy by Sylvia Plath is a feminist poem which was written about her father’s sudden demise. The poem is also partly autobiographical. Because the poet herself has said that the ‘daddy’ of the poem is her own daddy.

But, we should not take it only in that rather narrow sense, because we can clearly see that the poem is more psychologically significant than it is autobiographical. In an autobiographical sense when she was eight years old her father died, letting her struggle to this world. She could not have fatherly protection at her neediest time. So her subdued anger to her father is burst out in this poem.

Psychologically, the poem is an outlet of the mad anger of the speaker. On the surface of the poem, we see that the speaker hurls a series of verbal assaults against her father. She goes to the extent of scolding her father as a ‘bastard’. But on a deeper level of meaning, the image of daddy is the symbolic male who has oppressed the female throughout history; more generally, it is also the symbol of all destructive and tyrannical forces maintained by the males – war, genocide, atrocity, and so on. Her poetry is notable for its controlled and intense treatment of extremely painful states of mind. She is the great exponent of the poetry of neurosis. Though the stuff of Plath’s poetry is neurosis (full of delusions, guilt feelings and odd complexes), her poems are not neurotic. They are carefully executed expressions of neurosis.

“Daddy” by Sylvia Plath reflects feminist views of women’s liberation and challenges stereotypical expectations of women’s desire. For example, references to Nazi concentration camps underscore the state of the oppression of women. In addition, images of men as authority figures and fascists critique gender expectations that women want powerful, superior male figures in their life.

In 1963, the same year that the poems in Ariel were written and that Plath killed herself, an American journalist and union activist, Betty Friedan, who had graduated from Smith college thirteen years before Plath, published The Feminine Mystique and ushered in what is called the second wave of feminism in the United States. (The first wave ended when (white) women in the United States won the right to vote in 1919.) The second wave brought to the surface problems of female inequality, diminished opportunity, biological determinism-because women can bear children, women must bear children-and social and sexual freedom.

Plath herself, who became a powerful presence for late twentieth-century

feminism, was not a feminist but a woman whose turmoil and experience served to explain and justify the eruption of feminism. Caught between her own genius as a poet, her savage intellect, and sharp, indignant insights on the one hand and the gender expectations and roles women (and men) were trained to believe were inherent aspects of human nature, Plath, particularly because of her grim and tragic response to the contradictions that bedeviled her, became a model for many welleducated young women who resisted the roles that awaited them independent of their individual characteristics or desires.

There are two main themes running through the poem (Plath, “Ariel” 48): the loss of a father and women oppressed by men. Plath loses her father when she is a little girl as shown in the twelfth stanza “I was ten when they buried you” (line 57). She misses her father so much that her love towards him turns to hatred, she compares him to a Fascist. Plath had a troublesome relationship with him, he was a mystery to her “I have always been scared of you, with your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygook” (42) and his death makes it impossible to change it. His father’s shadow haunts her, she even tries to commit suicide to come closer to him “At twenty I tried to die, and get back, back, back to you” (58). Eventually, Plath in an effort to set herself free, kills her father in the very last stanza “There is a stake in your fat, black heart” (76). She is entitled to kill him, since he is German and she Jewish “I think I may well be a Jew” (40).

The theme of women’s oppression illustrates the tenth stanza “Every woman adores a Fascist, the boot in the face, the brute” (48). If the woman misbehaves or steps out of her feminine role, she is punished by the man, by the “brute”. The man is pictured as an enemy, not as an equal companion. To indicate it, she uses a metaphor when comparing men to vampires who live off women. Men use women to consolidate their social status, they do not care about women’s inner feelings or desires. By killing her father, Plath also kills the man and feels relieved and free.

6. As An Autobiographical Poem Personal and the Historical – The Intersection Between The

[Q. How much of this poem do you think was autobiographical for Plath? How much was made up? Does it matter to you as a reader whether or not the poem is autobiographical?]

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1982 for her Collected Poems, Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”, written in 1962, which appears in this collection, is perhaps her best known poem. It has elicited a variety of critical reactions, from feminist praise for its unadulterated rage towards male dominance, to wariness in its usage of Holocaust imagery. It has been reviewed and criticized by scores of scholars, and is upheld as one of the best examples of confessional poetry.

Written a few months before her suicide, “Daddy” gives a voyeuristic view of

Plath’s life as she skillfully combines the personal and the private with the historical to mount a brutal and venomous attack on her father Otto Plath and, indirectly on her husband, Ted Hughes. As Sylvia Plath is acknowledged to be a major confessional poet it follows that “Daddy” has autobiographical elements in it. It is therefore essential to know something about her father and the overpowering influence he had on her.

Otto Plath immigrated to America from Grabow, a town in the Polish Corridor. He was a Professor of Biology in the University of Boston and died of diabetes when Sylvia Plath was nine. Sylvia, who hero-worshipped her father, never wholly recovered from this emotional loss. For this supposed act of desertion and betrayal she attacked him in several poems. While in her earlier poems her rage was turned inwards resulting in bitter self- reproach, in her later ones she directly attacked her father since her love for him was mingled with sadomasochistic feelings: He was an autocrat… I adored and despised him, and I probably wished many times that he were dead. When he obliged me and died, I imagined that I had killed him.

This father-fixation continued to dog her for the rest of her short life and when she met Ted Hughes, a hulking Yorkshire man and an upcoming British poet. She married him because she felt she had found her father in him. However, she was shattered when she learned of his infidelity. This resulted in her intensely passionate, vitriolic outpouring in “Daddy” a few months before her suicide. It is an oft reiterated point that the blending of the personal with the Holocaust has given this poem the reputation of being the ‘Guernica’ of modern poetry and why Plath does so needs to be understood.

When Plath was a student, the Holocaust was a topic of intense discussion in both high school and college, and her college professors encouraged the reasoned linking of Nazism with current political concerns. Erich Fromm’s The Fear of Freedom (1941) too had a central, lasting influence on her. In his book Fromm maintained that America’s conformism stemmed from the same fear of freedom as the more extreme authoritarian horrors of Nazism. Fromm’s skilful combination of psychology and history in his book to further his arguments had a great impact on Plath, who also combined the two in her later poetry.

Moreover, with the Cold War at its height in the late 1950s, and the threat of a potential nuclear genocide, the concerns about the Holocaust became immediately relevant. Also, during the time Plath was in England in 1962, she watched the highly publicized Eichmann trial and her association with Gerry and Jillian Becker, who were Jews, made her veer round to the view that she and the world at large were victimized by modern life as the Jews and Japanese had been victimized by specific events in modern life.

All these personal and social influences mentioned above went into the making of “Daddy”. Baldly stated, this poem is written by a girl with an “Electra complex”, as Plath so famously said in her BBC interview. It is about her ambivalent love and

hostility towards her father, and her desire to annihilate and exorcise him in order to be free of him. Ironically, in gaining her freedom, she also annihilates herself. There are several poems in the Plathian oeuvre written between 1958 and 1962 that deal with “the 46 persistent, doomed effort to reconstruct her father.

To deny the vacant space left by his death [which forms] a central theme in [her] work”. They are “Full Fathom Five”, “Electra on Azalea Path”, “The Colossus”, “Little Fugue”, and her final verbal onslaught in “Daddy” where the “Electra complex” has not been used to mute guilt over patricidal anger as was the case in her previous poems. Instead, here he is variously described as a “Fascist”, a “devil”, a “vampire” and a “bastard” who needs to be exterminated. Understanding the twin feelings of love and hostility and prolonged sadomasochistic mourning is difficult to grasp but not surprising for Plath had read Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia, which aptly described her feelings and her reasons for committing suicide.

Although Freud allows that ambivalence inheres in all love relationships and in all mourning, he argues that a disproportion of negative feelings results in “melancholic’ or “pathological” mourning, characterized by “self-reproaches to the effect that the mourner himself is to blame for the loss of that loved object, i.e., that he has willed it”. The mourner’s self-reproach is therefore secondary, deriving from the primary anger towards the deceased. In melancholia, feelings of “sadism and hate” for the dead person “have been turned round upon the subject’s own self”, so that the mourner takes revenge “by the circuitous path of self-punishment”.

While this helps in gaining an insight into Plath’s protracted, life-long mourning, how she takes revenge on her father for his supposed oppression by combining the confessional elements in her poem with actual historical events without inflicting any punishment on herself needs to be analyzed. In the confessional strain, “Daddy” has been read as Plath’s vindictive assault on Otto Plath and Ted Hughes, but this is also the poem in which she evokes the Holocaust and identifies with the Jews.

The opening lines of the poem begin with a situation that is irksome to the poet: 47 You do not do, you do not do Any more, black shoe In which I have lived like a foot For thirty years, poor and white, Barely daring to breathe or Achoo. These lines, evocative of a little girl using nursery rhymes and childlike repetition, convey an “unresolved oedipal position”. However, in the very next line the subject makes it clear that this poem does not deal with love, desertion and betrayal. It is about authoritarianism, dominance and oppression.

The opening stanza assimilates more than one form of oppression: between daughter and father; rich and poor. Nevertheless, it is patriarchal oppression which is the main concern in the poem when she says that she has “lived like a foot” in a “black shoe”, “barely daring to breathe or Achoo”. There is an unstated desire for emancipation and a hint of triumph as she sets out to overthrow this patriarchal oppression. But, suddenly there is a shift in psychic time when the subject says:

Daddy, I have had to kill you. You died before I had time – Here there is an admission of a murder which has taken place after the fact. Her father died much before she imaginatively kills him. She admits that she had murdered him in a childhood fantasy, and now she must murder him again to save herself from annihilation. Though she “used to pray to recover [him]” in her earlier poems, here she does not do so for this father whom she had elevated to the status of God: “bag full of God”: is an oppressor and she the oppressed.

It is through the father that the subject discovers her own history and finds parallels with actual historical events that took place. The origin of the father, who left his Polish home town for America, is lost both physically and in language. Wars have devastated the town and its name forgotten: 48 In the German tongue, in the Polish town Scraped flat by the roller Of wars, wars, wars. But the name of the town is common. My Polack friend Says there are a dozen or two. So I never could tell where you Put your foot, your root, These lines wipe out the origins of the father as the subject fails to recall the name of the town. This forgetting is essential for the mind resorts to this amnesia in order to survive.

If this poem is about the death of the father, it is also about the death of language. The father’s oppression makes the subject inarticulate, for she cannot communicate with him and can only repeat endlessly in a destroyed, obscene language, “Ich, ich, ich, ich”. It is like the word “stuck in a barb wire snare” that surrounded concentration camps. She fails to find her father anywhere but, ironically, she finds him in every German in a language she can hardly speak in. This representation of the father leads to the first reference to the Holocaust and engenders and forces her identification with the Jew: An engine, an engine Chuffing me off like a Jew. A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. I began to talk like a Jew. I think I may well be a Jew. It is worth noting that the speaker finds herself in the debased place of the Jew and that the pull towards identification and identity is dehumanizing.

However, Plath’s identification with the Jew is “partial, hesitant, and speculative… The trope of identification is not substitution but displacement, with all that it implies by way of instability in any identity thereby produced”. For this speaker, Jewishness, like that of 49 the gypsies, is the position of one without history or roots, who have been subjected to “weird luck”. By inserting her own history into that of the Holocaust she is trying to claim a relationship to an event in which she did not participate. Plath does this because she felt that patriarchal violence found its ultimate brutal expression in the Nazi concentration camps and that she too is a victim of a similar violence.

Also, the patriarchal figure of the father and his language in the poem “occupies the place of the Lacanian Name of the Father, agency of prohibition and primer of the law, language and culture”. Her father has bright blue Aryan eyes and is “Not God but a swastika / So black no sky [can] squeak through”. He is the ultimate symbol of oppression and she is forced to admit that: I have always been scared of you, With your Luftwaffe, and your gobbledygoo. The word “gobbledygoo” signals childish

incomprehension as well as the difficulty in integrating the symbolic order of accepting the paternalistic universe. This linguistic breakdown, suggested by “ich” and

“gobbledygoo”, is presented as “part of a crisis of language and identity” (Rose 228). Nevertheless, despite the personal crisis the subject is facing, and her desire to rebel against patriarchal oppression she states: Every woman adores a Fascist, The boot in the face, the brute Brute heart of a brute like you. Stangeways has pointed out that these controversial lines find their root in Erich Fromm’s The Fear of Freedom (1941) which Plath avidly read. He maintained that the sadistic authoritarian Nazi figure is equated to a strong, father figure on whom people depended on and looked upto. In so doing, people abdicated their individuality and depended on him for security.

Throughout the poem the speaker and “daddy”, masochistic and sadistic figures, are dependent upon each other. Similarly, both the figures’ connection to Nazism, as Jew and Fascist, are linked by their dependence on each other to Fromm’s theorization. Here Plath makes the point that the archetypal, sadistic male figure in the poem prevents the individuality of the daughter from flowering. The female figure’s adoration of the Fascist is a reaction to the feelings of aloneness associated with freedom, through masochistic strivings. Freedom for the speaker in the poem would mean freedom from the authoritarian father figure and Plath uses the situation depicted in the poem to explore the dynamics of her attitude towards individualism.

Interestingly, Anthony Burke too makes a similar point in Poetry Outside Security wherein he maintains that the security modern nation-states offer is “malevolent, vampiric, indeed parental power that ought to be as much a source of revulsion and struggle as of comfort”; that the price of security, territorial integrity, prosperity as well as the vaunted democratic way of life comes at the cost of drowning one’s individuality; that Plath’s struggle against her father is the conflict between submitting to authority or retaining one’s individuality. “So, Plath’s struggle, as ours, might be both against the figure of the father and her own psychic status of daughter; against her own historic investment of identity in the father, her abject binds of love and anger and submission, against her social, cultural, and familial structure of being”. How does the speaker stage her revolt against this authoritarianism and lack of individuation? Her father, whom she has so consistently mourned, has now been transformed into the devil with “a cleft in [his] chin instead of [his] foot”.

As Plath had mentioned in her BBC radio comment, his death in this poem is the result of less love than of her need to defend herself against his violence: The poem is spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. The father died while she thought he was God… she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it. After demonizing him, she retaliates with equal and opposite violence for he “bit [her] pretty red heart in two”. She now strikes back by driving a stake in his “fat black heart”. She recalls all her debasing acts like elevating him to the status of God; trying to commit suicide; and in making a “model” of him by marrying “a man in black with

a Meinkampf look”. This is an obvious reference to Ted Hughes and both the original and the copy have to be destroyed. She recounts the humiliations she has faced in her seven year marriage to Ted Hughes.

The most humiliating was the discovery of his infidelity which she accidentally =overheard while he was conversing with his lover over the telephone. She triumphantly announces: If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two – The vampire who said he was you And drank my blood for a year, Seven years, if you want to know. Daddy, you can lie back now She has killed both father and father-substitute, because the inner need to re-compose her father that was an obsession with her is now no more. It is worth noting that, “psychologically, she depends on the very image she would murder for the means of murder itself; she drives the stake in the vampire’s heart. Her aggression, in its verbal and phallic form, is inseparable from the fantasized aggression of the father”, who has been transformed into a Nazi.

However, her aggression in driving a stake in the vampire’s heart is unsettling and bewildering and one wonders why the victim suddenly becomes the aggressor. The answer to this lies in the 1985 Hamburg Congress of the International Association of Psycho-Analysis that dealt with the children of survivors or Nazis during the Holocaust. The Congress found: …Over and over again these patients found themselves in fantasy occupying either side of the victim / aggressor divide… For being a victim does not stop you from identifying with the aggressor; being an aggressor does not stop you from identifying with the victim… the perpetrators experience themselves as victims in order both to deny and to legitimate their role (to be a perpetrator you have first to ‘be’ a victim); the victim identifies with the aggressor out of retaliation in a situation where not only psychic but concrete survival is at stake. These partial and transferable identities reveal a great deal about

the workings of fantasy itself.

Having killed her father in fantasy she now chooses sadistic vengeance over libidinal redirection or solace as the speaker’s survival is at stake. To free herself from her father-substitute, she tears out the telephone from the line so that “the voices just can’t worm through”. By doing so she can literally no longer overhear any conversations between Hughes and his lady love and, symbolically, from her dead father. The villagers dance and stamp over father’s dead body, not out of love but out of vengeance. The ritual exorcism has succeeded and Plath finally declares: Daddy, daddy you bastard, I’m through. She has spilled his blood to free herself of him with the violence she once directed at herself in her earlier poems. “Now she would rather get back at him than get back to him, rather renounce him than renew him”.

However, for all her vehemence and her vituperative outburst against her father, the conclusion remains ambivalent. The word “through” is ambiguous. Has she exorcized herself of her father’s memory through imaginative murder? Or has she finally made a connection with him and has got through to him? If the latter holds true then she will finally be united with him through suicide. In other words, her impending suicide

OF is hinted at. In short, for all its triumphant overtones in exorcizing Daddy, the end the poem remains ambiguous.

As Plath’s verbal blast drove the stake in her father’s heart, her morbid love hatred towards her father and father-substitute made intellectual London sit up with unease over this strange and terrible poem written during the last months of her life. In this poem the mourning is not redemptive nor does it have a healing touch. Moreover, a lot of controversy has been generated over her use of Nazi imagery and in her attributing Nazi characteristics to her father who was not one. Contemporary theorists like Adorno maintained that “to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric because Auschwitz poses problems for literary representation and defies it.

of the horror The proper language to represent it cannot be found as somethin is removed from it. It follows that there is a loss of metaphor and language and there is a crisis of representation, the repercussions of which “Daddy” traces. Whatever emerges from such art is merely vayeuristic as people have become complacent. Plath is also accused of trivializing the horrors of the Holocaust and maintaining that the Jews with whom she identified only faced “weird luck” when in fact they were victims of an unspeakable horror and fate. There are others who feel Plath was unfit to write about the Holocaust for she did not experience it. Only people who experienced the hellish subject could write about it for familiarity had to be earned not presupposed. To counter this criticism George Steiner, Plath’s staunchest supporter, praises “Daddy” as the “Guernica of modern poetry” and adds, “Perhaps it is only those who had no part in the events who can focus on them rationally and imaginatively”. What is also important to know is that Plath perceived such historical events in mythic terms.

However, the traditional myth through which poetry works was devalued as it was unable to make sense of the Holocaust. In trying to represent the inconceivably mythic horror of the Holocaust the poem becomes flat. Nevertheless, “Daddy” tries to induce a sense of complicity by combining the events with an intimate tone and material which generates unease in the readers who are meant to feel uncomfortable. This is viewed as the poem’s success for “such poems are culturally valuable because the appearance of the Holocaust in them is like a “boot in the face” – certainty, few readers leave them feeling “complacent instead of concerned or disturbed”.

What Strangeways says has some merit, for in inserting the Holocaust into her poem Plath makes us aware of the crisis of thought, speech and representation which is applicable to all wars rocking the world today. It is imperative to understand this for somewhere down the line people fail to react to such crises because they have become mentally fatigued due to an over-exposure to all the bloodshed and atrocities taking place. In other words, people have become inured to this pornography of violence.

Moreover, though this poem has succeeded fairly well in shaking us out of our complacency, the fact remains that Plath uses the Holocaust to aggrandize her own personal difficulties. “Indeed, both the Nazi allegory and the Freudian drama of trying

to die so as to “get back, back, back to you” can now be seen as devices designed to camouflage what is perhaps the deepest thrust of this poem which is, like “Purdah”, a cry of outrage against the deceiving husband”. To counter this charge she has a staunch supporter in Rose who says, “Who can say that these were not difficulties which she experienced in her very person” and very weakly maintains that castigating her for comparing herself to the Jews is beside the point.

It must also be admitted that Plath is not concerned with the nature of her experience as she does not reveal much about herself, the psychological workings of her mind, or come to any self-understanding about her situation. In this, the last word rests with Uroff who says that the pace of this lacerating poem “reveals its speaker as one driven by a hysterical need for complete control, a need that stems from the fear that without such control she will be destroyed. Her simple, incantatory monologue is the perfect vehicle of expression for the orderly disordered mind”.

6. Imagery

[Q. Assess how the images employed add meaning to “Daddy.” Or, How does Plath use the imagery of Nazi Germany in her poem? Does it work? Why? How?

Or, Q. How does Plath use the imagery of Nazi Germany in her poem? Does it work? Why? How?] 

Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy” had very dark tones and imagery including death and suicide, in addition to the Holocaust. Plath wrote about her father’s death that occurred when she was eight years old and of her ongoing battle trying to free herself from her father. Plath’s father, Otto Plath, had died from complications after his leg amputation. He had been ill previously before his death for around four years before finally dying from untreated diabetes mellitus.

Initially in “Daddy,” Plath idolizes her father, going as far as to compare him to God. However, as her poem progresses she later compares him to a swastika and what it symbolizes. Plath alludes to her father being a Nazi soldier and in contrast, compares herself to a Jewish prisoner. The metaphor Plath employed is a means of expressing her relationship with her father. Plath ultimately had feared her father and was terrified of him as those who were Jewish were terrified of the Nazi soldiers. She includes various references to the masses brutally murdered by the Holocaust and the destruction of war in her poem.

“Daddy” is perhaps Sylvia Plath’s best-known poem. It has elicited a variety of distinct reactions, from feminist praise of its unadulterated rage towards male dominance, to wariness at its usage of Holocaust imagery. It has been reviewed and criticized by hundreds and hundreds of scholars, and is upheld as one of the best examples of confessional poetry.

It is certainly a difficult poem for some: its violent imagery, invocation of Jewish

suffering, and vitriolic tone can make it a decidedly uncomfortable reading experience. Overall, the poem relates Plath’s journey of coming to terms with her father’s looming figure; he died when she was eight. She casts herself as a victim and him as several figures, including a Nazi, vampire, devil, and finally, as a resurrected figure her husband, whom she has also had to kill.

Though the final lines have a triumphant tone, it is unclear whether she means she has gotten “through” to him in terms of communication, or whether she is “through” thinking about him. Plath explained the poem briefly in a BBC interview: “The poem is spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. The father died while she thought he was God. Her case is complicated by the fact that her father was also a Nazi and her mother very possibly part Jewish. In the daughter the two strains marry and paralyze each other -she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it.”

In other words, contradiction is at the heart of the poem’s meaning. Neither its triumph nor its horror is to be taken as the sum total of her intention. Instead, each element is contradicted by its opposite, which explains how it shoulders so many distinct interpretations.

This sense of contradiction is also apparent in the poem’s rhyme scheme and organization. It uses a sort of nursery rhyme, singsong way of speaking. There are hard sounds, short lines, and repeated rhymes (as in “Jew,” “through,” “do,” and “you”). This establishes and reinforces her status as a childish figure in relation to her authoritative father. This relationship is also clear in the name she uses for him – “Daddy”- and in her use of “oo” sounds and a childish cadence. However, this childish rhythm also has an ironic, sinister feel, since the chant-like, primitive quality can feel almost like a curse. One critic wrote that the poem’s “simplistic, insistent rhythm is one form of control, the obsessive rhyming and repeated short phrases are others, means by which she attempts to charm and hold off evil spirits.” In other words, the childish aspects have a crucial, protective quality, rather than an innocent one.

“Daddy” can also be viewed as a poem about the individual trapped between herself and society. Plath weaves together patriarchal figures – a father, Nazis, a vampire, a husband and then holds them all accountable for history’s horrors. Like “The Colossus,” “Daddy” imagines a larger-than-life patriarchal figure, but here the figure has a distinctly social, political aspect. Even the vampire is discussed in terms of its tyrannical sway over a village. In this interpretation, the speaker comes to understand that she must kill the father figure in order to break free of the limitations that it places upon her. In particular, these limitations can be understood as patriarchal forces that enforce a strict gender structure. It has the feel of an exorcism, an act of purification. And yet the journey is not easy. She realizes what she has to do, but it requires a sort of hysteria. In order to succeed, she must have complete control, since she fears she will be destroyed unless she totally annihilates her antagonist. –

The question about the poem’s confessional, autobiographical content is also worth exploring. The poem does not exactly conform to Plath’s biography, and her above-cited explanation suggests it is a carefully-constructed fiction. And yet its ambivalence towards male figures does correspond to the time of its composition – she wrote it soon after learning that her husband Ted Hughes had left her for another woman. Further, the mention of a suicide attempt links the poem to her life.

However, some critics have suggested that the poem is actually an allegorical representation of her fears of creative paralysis, and her attempt to slough off the “male muse.” Stephen Gould Axelrod writes that “at a basic level, ‘Daddy’ concerns its own violent, transgressive birth as a text, its origin in a culture that regards it as illegitimate -a judgment the speaker hurls back on the patriarch himself when she labels him a bastard.” The father is perceived as an object and as a mythical figure (many of them, in fact), and never really attains any real human dimensions. It is less a person than a stifling force that puts its boot in her face to silence her. From this perspective, the poem is inspired less by Hughes or Otto than by agony over creative limitations in a male literary world. However, even this interpretation begs something of an autobiographical interpretation, since both Hughes and her father were representations of that world.

Plath’s usage of Holocaust imagery has inspired a plethora of critical attention. She was not Jewish but was in fact German, yet was obsessed with Jewish history and culture. Several of her poems utilize Holocaust themes and imagery, but this one features the most striking and disturbing ones. She imagines herself being taken on a train to “Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen,” and starting to talk like a Jew and feel like a Jew. She refers to her father as a “panzer-man,” and notes his Aryan looks and his “Luftwaffe” brutality. One of the leading articles on this topic, written by Al Strangeways, concludes that Plath was using her poetry to understand the connection between history and myth, and to stress the voyeurism that is an implicit part of remembering.

Plath had studied the Holocaust in an academic context, and felt a connection to it; she also felt like a victim, and wanted to combine the personal and public in her work to cut through the stagnant double-talk of Cold War America. She certainly uses Holocaust imagery, but does so alongside other violent myths and history, including those of Electra, vampirism, and voodoo. Strangeways writes that, “the Holocaust assumed a mythic dimension because of its extremity and the difficulty of understanding it in human terms, due to the mechanical efficiency with which it was carried out, and the inconceivably large number of victims.” In other words, its shocking content is not an accident, but is rather an attempt to consider how the 20th century’s great atrocity reflects and escalates a certain human quality.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine that any of Sylvia Plath’s poems could leave the reader unmoved. “Daddy” is evidence of her profound talent, part of which rested in her unabashed confrontation with her personal history and the traumas of the age

in which she lived. That she could write a poem that encompasses both the personal and historical is clear in “Daddy.”

Plath makes use of a number of poetic techniques in ‘Daddy’ these include enjambment, metaphor, simile and juxtaposition. The former, juxtaposition, is used when two contrasting objects or ideas are placed in conversation with one another in order to emphasize that contrast. A poet usually does this in order to speak on a larger theme of their text or make an important point about the differences between these two things. In this poem, there is a consistent juxtaposition between innocence or youthful emotions, and pain.

Metaphors and similes appear throughout the text in order to convey the speaker’s emotional opinions about her father. He is compared to a Nazi, a sadist and a vampire, as well as a few other people and objects.

Another important technique that is commonly used in poetry is enjambment. This occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are instances in almost every stanza, but a reader can look to the beginning of stanzas three and four for poignant examples of this technique.

7. The Representation of the Father of the Speaker [Q. What effect does the use of “Daddy” instead of “Father” have on this poem?

Or, Q. How does Plath characterize or convey the character of the father in “Daddy”?

Or, Q. Could the “Daddy” figure in this poem be a metaphor for something besides the speaker’s literal father?]

“Daddy” by Sylvia Plath expresses what can be seen as her pain and disdain towards her late father. The poem expresses many phrases and sentences aimed towards insulting her father (and husband) in a cold, calculated yet playful manner. She uses the effects of apostrophe to emphasize her position as a child showing affection to their father at the beginning of the poem, which is unusual as this poem’s main setting was to provide an image of the hated man her father so seemed to be.

In addition to the Euphony added to cause the poem to sound more like a nursery rhyme the poem is perfectly crafted to give off dark imagery vividly in a rather odd manner which was never really presented in any of her poems. Throughout the poem, a theme of innocence is played with carefully to balance it with the theme of war, death, pain and loss to add up to form a masterpiece formed to present a perfect cutting edge that slices through both the mind and heart to play with the feelings of the reader to feel and understand the complicated grief that Plath is going through as the poem progresses. It gives the implication of a child aware of the misery the engulfs them. “

For thirty years, even after the death of her father, Sylvia Plath has “lived like a foot” in a “black shoe”. She exclaims that her life was rather dull and dark with her father, he’s been treating her more as a foot that only supports him and less like a daughter. Her father was also very strict with her as she says to the point where her breath and sneezes may have been too out of line for him, “barely daring to breathe a achoo.” Whatever her father did to her has had a major impact on her. All of this had caused even more of an impact in the way it was structured.

The rhymes throughout the stanza act as more of a nursery rhyme as to add to the title “Daddy” it shows that at the moment she’s using the mindset of herself as a child to add to the poem in her own way. This added euphony only makes the remainder of the poem that much more disturbing as the imagery will soon begin to escalate. This stanza mainly focuses on the theme of child-like innocence and pain. The nursery rhyme-like style fit in with the fear of her father makes this evident throughout the stanza. “Daddy I have had to kill you”. This is an unexpectedly morbid intention even if it was directly after this torturous parenting. For one to want to kill their dad no matter what.

However, “You died before I had time…” this makes it somewhat acceptable as the reader could see that she might have meant it metaphorically, as in to kill his terrible personality and fix the bond between them. Again this Plath’s method of showing that this is her as a child, as in reality it’s much more difficult to change a person and realistically her father would not have changed and her life was better off without him. “Marble-heavy, a bag full of god,” a rather subtle image of death, “marble heavy” could be referring to her father’s tombstone as that is a common substance used for making them. “A bag full of god” odd yet accurate description, it could be a reference to the fact that her father was simply just sent to god for him to be judged as it is common belief that the dead’s faith is tested while they are in their coffin. “Ghastly Statue with one grey toe… Big as a Frisco Seal”. The use of synecdoche emphasizes this as the toe of her father is enough of a presence to haunt her as if his entire body was lying there as well.

She acknowledges her irrational choice of wishing her father back, and the use of past tense, could that possibly hint that she has relieved herself of the haunting image of her father? “Ach, du [Oh, you]” no it does not, the use of her father’s preferred language shows that she has yet to make peace with the haunting memories of her father. This can even be interpreted as her still trying to communicate with her father as she uses his method of articulation to write the next stanza. The theme of child-like innocence and loss are portrayed through this, the use of “freakish” brings an heir of child-like humor and therefore can be seen as part of them.

Loss is then brought out after Plath mentions his head in the Atlantic and expands his presence through the state, even though he is dead. Therefore, Plath still feels her father rules over her, even though his body is in pieces and separated from her. This emphasizes the image of child-like innocence as she cannot lose the presence

of her father even though she is more than old enough to realize that his death means he is gone for good. “In the German tongue, in the polish town” the theme of war is slightly expressed, Polish towns were taken over by the German masses. This was done to an extent where the first language of the area was German instead of their own. This is also Plath’s method of mentioning the language barrier between her father and herself, which may have played a factor in influencing the way he raised her.

The lands were “scraped flat by the roller” this acts as a metaphor, Plath is acting as the polish town which was beneath the roller (her father) and being undermined. Her father’s disciplinary methods could have possibly been excessive, such as her use of repetition: “wars, wars, wars.” the use of repetition is hyperbolic and can be used in reference to her father’s extreme method of raising her. “My Polack friend” though friends she refers to her friend in a racist manner; “Polack” is a derogatory term that is regarded as an insult to the polish. Her father could have possibly made his views heard, thus influencing his daughter to think like this.

Though Plath seemed to have experienced a lot of trauma from her father, it seems he wasn’t present for most of her life: “So I could never tell where you… put your foot, your root”, Poland had many towns that had the same name (“…There are a dozen or two”), so it was difficult for her to know where her father was, in addition to that there is a sense of rhythm, which adds to the childish theme displayed throughout the poem. “I could never talk to you” Plath outright exclaims that she and her father had communicative issues. “The tongue stuck in my jaw” She uses the last line of the stanza to have the reader understand how serious her dysfunction with her father is.

The problems her father had given her have affected herself. She begins to feel that the whole time she was someone else, who was seen as a natural enemy of her father. This explains the imagery of war, it is used to imply her father was Hitler, which explains why the whole time she believed her father naturally hated her. “The snows of Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna” taking items stereotypically seen as clean and beer and then… “Are not very pure or true,” suddenly bashing the idea and completely altering to it’s polar opposite. This can be her method of explaining what her father was to her.

The image of perfect dad, but the actions of a terrible one, in addition to that, that Nazi’s idea of purity was the genocide and extinction of a religion. This makes the link between her father and Hitler all the clearer. “With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck” during the war, the gypsies were also seen as impure and were also killed during the holocaust. This emphasizes the fact that Plath believes the reason she was supposedly hated by her father was because she was partially a gypsy and thus impure. This adds to the theme of child-like innocence as they believe it’s because of something other than the fact that her father was a terrible person and

that it was her fault for being partially gypsy die to her “weird luck”. Because of this she may “be a bit of a Jew”.

Her father is also described as a “Panzer-man” followed up by “Oh you” which is interesting, due to the fact that the last time this occurred was when she said it in German: “Ach, du”. This is most like Plath’s process of progressing herself throughout the poem. It could possibly be her showing that she is detaching from her father as the poem progresses. Soon she begins to build up on another contrast, this time it’s between ideologies “Not God but a swastika.” As mentioned before, it was discussed that Plath’s image of her father was perfect, like that of a God, however now he’s seen as a symbol of evil; a swastika to be more accurate. Before it was also said that his presence over Plath had crossed the entirety of the United States, and now that the reader can see him as a swastika it becomes easier to understand why the next line “So black no sky could squeak through” was placed afterwards.

At first it is confusing, but now it’s easier to see, her father is now seen as a giant swastika covering the entirety of the sky and keeping the happy color blue from entering her life, but instead showering her under the depressing shade of black. “Every woman adores a fascist” Though far fetched, but this still links her father with Hitler; unexpectedly Hitler was quite the ladies’ man and as a fascist himself it is clear that Plath is again making sure that her father is surely within leagues of evil equal to that of Hitler’s.

It looks like her father had gotten an upgrade, instead of being compared to Hitler he is compared to the devil. The devil is depicted as having goat feet which have clefts in their feet. She once again refers to the image of him appearing as perfect (“God”) but actually being terrible (“swastika”) and so proceeds to call him that “A cleft in your chin instead of your foot… but no less a devil for that, no not” as the reader can see it’s quite obvious especially with the use of enjambment made to split the same idea between two lines for an effect of emphasis. With him being the devil she now brings in another man into the poem who is the same as her father. He is described as “Any less (referring to the next coming character as completely the same devil her father was) the black man who… bit my pretty red heart in two”.

Sylvia Plath at some point got married to the poet Ted Hughes, this will become more important as the poem progresses, however the focus for now is diverted back to her father. “I was ten when they buried you… At twenty I tried to die”. Her father’s haunting memories have still remained with her and they are influencing her very negatively as she believed the only solution to her life was to come back to her father, who was responsible for this in the beginning. “And get back, back, back to you.”

The impression her father left her was so unsatisfying that she needed someone like her possibly due to the fact she believes she can kill the “black man within him” like what she thought with her father. Hughes had apparently appeared to also be in leagues with Hitler and have “a love for the rack and the screw” both of which are torture methods known to be bear horrifying results on the inflicted. Could the

speaker be hinting that their life with the person was tortured but they were delirious to the point where they had ignored this negative aspect of her husband.

Now that the speaker has a living model of her father, the haunting memories need to go away therefore she claims “So daddy, I’m finally through,” she now has somebody just like him and can now be away from her father as his voice can no longer “worm through” the “black telephone” that he’s been manipulating her with for such a long time. This begins to tie in a theme of mystery and a hint of the supernatural as many of things that her father and husband are connected to are black. Why is it that the colour black appears so often when it comes to them? Black is associated with death, evil and mystery and as the reader can see; all three of these are present.

The mystery of why her father had been following her for so long after death and evil that he has put her through. It all ended up coming to this, but now she doesn’t need him anymore she has a model who’s alive. She’s through. Except for the fact that the man she married was draining her life away just like her father, making the two of them, as described by the poet, vampires. Plath and Hughes end up going through a divorce and this acts as the final test for Plath as she claims that since she’s killed the idea of her husband she’s also killed the idea of her father: “If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two” and since they’re both dead her father can lie back now, normally this would be seen as an affectionate twist as the speaker allows the father to rest peacefully, though it seems that way, the next line clearly does not make that message clear. “There’s a stake in your fat black heart” this is a rather violent twist, with this line she also builds a wall between herself and the father as his heart is “fat” and black”, whereas her heart is’ “pretty” and “red”. She now makes it evident that she and her father were never the same.

All in all, the poem “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath uses the themes of innocence, pain, war and loss to intertwine and balance one another out to craft the poem in a method that gives off a glow of innocence but has an heir of menace to it. Along the end it begins to play with the theme of the supernatural as it combines myths with the real word to portray the image of Plath’s father in a manner that will make sure he is seen as an antagonist throughout her life. This is emphasized by bringing in her husband/model of her late father, who was described as the same as her father to extend her hate and disdain for him.

8. The Holocaust

[Q. What do the Holocaust allusions, in Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” bring to the poem?

Or, Q. What is the effect of the comparison between the speaker’s father and Nazis?

Or, Q. This poem contains several allusions to Hitler and Nazi Germany, as well as concentration camp imagery. What message do the allusions and

imagery convey about Plath’s attitude toward her father?]

Plath’s comparison of herself to a Jew and her allusions to “your Aryan eye, bright blue,” “Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen,” “an engine/ Chuffing,” “a swastika,” and the “Luftwaffe,” as well as a “neat mustache” and “a Meinkampf look” all allude to what has come to be called the Holocaust or the Shoa.

The Holocaust was the deliberate and carefully executed extermination of the majority of the population of European Jewry. This was carried out in Nazi Germany during the period beginning with Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933 and ending in 1945, when the Allied Forces of the Soviet Union, the United States, and Great Britain defeated Germany at the end of World War II. Hitler, a man with a trademark black moustache, mobilized the German people particularly with the tool of anti-Semitism and by promulgating the racist idea that there was a “master race” of Aryans, notable for their blue eyes, and inferior races, like the Jews, who were compared to vermin in Nazi propaganda. Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Dachau’are the names of death camps where Jews were taken to be gassed and then cremated.

Mein Kampf is the name of the book Hitler wrote around 1925 during a relatively brief imprisonment for leading his followers in subversive and violent demonstrations. Mein Kampf sets forth the Nazi ideology and expresses Hitler’s anti-Jewish stance. The Luftwaffe was Hitler’s air force. The incomprehensible, open, and proud barbarity of the Nazis hovered throughout the 1950s and beyond as the indelible emblem of brutality and cruelty.

The date of the poem is highly relevant as of the presence and controversial use of the Holocaust as a metaphor; just by reading the poem, we can find annotations in German: “ach, du”, “ich,ich”. Moreover, when going into the writer’s background, we can find that her father to whom the poem is directly addressed, was a Nazi. This obviously had an impact on her and, as the critic Robert Philips wrote, “Plath was to achieve relief” by making mortality the main theme in “Daddy”. The American writer chooses to discuss in this poem several themes, such as the exploration of gender, supernatural and mortality, the last one being the most important.

The speaker of “Daddy” is in fact obsessed with mortality and goes further beyond that, into the supernatural, as the author’s father haunts her and makes her seek her own death in hope of reuniting with the suffering loss. Sylvia states from the beginning that she has lived in her father’s “old shoe” explicitly phallic image and was not able to get out of it. As we all know, a shoe protects the foot and keeps it warm, but here the shoe is a trap which is smothering the foot. Using the color “black” to describe the shoe, Sylvia Plath accentuates the idea of death and the foot becomes a body in a coffin since the shoe is fitting tightly around it.

The pressure on the author’s life caused by the loss of the parental figure in her life has had such an impact that, at a certain point, Plath wishes she was the one who murdered her father: “Daddy, I have had to kill you” because it would have

caused her less harm. In my opinion, this confession is shocking and violent and we don’t know if the speaker is sad that her father died or she’s angry. In the next line, the speaker describes the body of her father as “marble-heavy” creating a creepy image. We can see here the stiff heaviness of the father’s corpse which is compared with a marble gravestone. Further, the speaker compares the body with a bag, but one which was as powerful as God.

After the speaker describes her father as a statue, she says that she used to pray to recover him. Here we can interpret that once upon a time she didn’t want her father to die, but using the phrase “used to”, we realize that this wish was in the past and now she doesn’t pray to get her father back anymore. In the poem, we find out that the speaker could never talk to her father maybe because he made her nervous or maybe she wasn’t so good at speaking German. However, she says that the German language was obscene and it terrifies her, making her feel that it is a train which takes her to a horrible death.

Sylvia Plath talks in the poem about the gipsy ancestress. It seems that the speaker had a gipsy female ancestor and she may be as well part Jewish. Here comes again the idea of death. It is known that gypsies and Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust because they were considered to be “impure.” Then, the speaker suggests that Nazis should have killed the snows of Tyrol, or the beer of Vienna, for being impure too.

In the poem appears the color of death, the color “black”. As I have already said, “black” is used to describe the shoe in which the speaker has lived. But this color has other connotations too. It could refer to an oppressive society, like the time of Nazi rule, it could also refer to the relationship of the speaker with her father and not least the inability to speak. In my opinion, “Daddy” is a difficult poem because of its violent images, Jewish suffering or the harsh tone. The poem is constructed in a dark way and has a composition that prioritizes death.

9. Electra Complex / Father-Daughter Relationship [Q. How would you describe the speaker’s depiction of her father? Or, Q. What effect does the use of “Daddy” instead of “Father” have on this poem?

Or, Q. Does the narrator seem to love or hate her father? Explain.]

In Neo-Freudian psychology, the Electra complex, as proposed by Carl Gustav Jung, is a girl’s psychosexual competition with her mother for possession of her father. In the course of her psychosexual development, the complex is the girl’s phallic stage; formation of a discrete sexual identity, a boy’s analogous experience is the Oedipus complex. The Electra complex occurs in the third-phallic stage (ages 3-6) – of five psychosexual development stages: (i) the Oral, (ii) the Anal, (iii) the Phallic, (iv) the Latent, and (v) the Genital – in which the source libido pleasure is in a different erogenous zone of the infant’s body.

Daddy is one of Sylvia Plath’s most famous poems, a poem which deals with the Electra complex. Even Sylvia admitted in an interview that her poem talks about this complex. The poem is spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. The father died while she thought he was God. Her case is complicated by the fact that her father was also a Nazi and her mother very possibly part Jewish. In the daughter the two strains marry and paralyze each other -she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it.2 From the title we can see the love that the girl shares with his father, the noun ?daddy? being much more emotional than ?father? or ?dad?.

Even if in the beginning, the girl says that she wants to kills his father, we can see in the other lines, that, in fact, she doesn’t want this thing, she loves her father and she wants to be with him.She wants him back, and she starts to pray to get him back. I used to pray to recover you.?When she was twenty years old, her love for his father was so big that she even would die to be next to him. “Bit my pretty red heart in two./I was ten when they buried you./At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you./I thought even the bones would do.? Her father image is so powerful for her, that she transforms him in God ?Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,? and later in a nazi German? I thought every German was you.?And because she sees her father as a German, she considers to be herself a Jew? I began to talk like a Jew./I think I may well be a Jew.?

Also, I thing she considers herself to be a Jew to transfigure her role as a victim She wants to emphasize her pain ,her misery, like a Jew who has been the victim of the Germans. The poem is full of trauma and pain. The line? You do not do? expresses that the girl is still trying to realise that she is forced to accept the truth that her father is gone. Her frustration of not being allowed to communicate with her father is described on the lines:? I never could talk to you. /The tongue stuck in my jaw.? After she realised that she can’t join her father through suicide, she decides to marry a man who looks like her father, who has the same characteristics:? And then I knew what to do. /I made a model of you,/A man in black with a Meinkampf look/And a love of the rack and the screw. /And I said I do, I do.? ?If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two/The vampire who said he was you/And drank my blood for a year/Seven years, if you want to know /Daddy, you can lie back now/There’s a stake in your far black heart /And the villagers never liked you/They are dancing and stamping on you/They always knew it was you/Daddy, Daddy, you bastard, I’m through.?

The two stanzas present the ambivalence to his father, and this is a good ending for her to describe this kind of ambivalence. The first stanza I mentioned above is a love for her daddy, and by loving his daddy she married her husband. Because she loves her daddy, she found a person like him. So, she says if she killed one man, she killed two. Two means to be her daddy and her husband. It is her daddy who drank her blood for a year, and seven years means the period of marriage which is

indirectly caused by her daddy. The final stanza I mentioned above stands for the hate to her daddy, especially the final line- Daddy, Daddy, you bastard, I’m through, It’s the sentence that I love most because it presents the most hatred to his daddy, and she wrote it like that she got rid of her daddy’s trouble. Therefore, I think these two stanzas stand for ambivalence.

“Daddy” is, of course, Plath’s most extended treatment of the father symbol, though it is by no means her best poem. The rapid, often wild succession of elements relating to the father are not entirely integrated into the poem. It opens with a reference to the father’s black shoe, in which the daughter has “lived like a foot,” suggesting her submissiveness and entrapment. The poem then moves to a derisive commentary on the idealized image of the father (“Marble heavy, a bag full of God”) and summarizes his background: his life in a German-speaking part of Poland that was “Scraped flat by the roller / Of wars”.

The daughter admits here, for the first time in the poetry, that she was afraid of him. Yet all these references are merely introductory remarks to prepare the reader for the fantastic “allegory” that is to come. As Plath describes it in her note: “The poem is spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. Her father died while she thought he was God. Her case is complicated by the fact that her father was also a Nazi and her mother very possibly part Jewish. In the daughter the two strains marry and paralyze each other-she has to act out the awful little allegory once before she is free of it.”

Plath’s real father was not a Nazi, and her mother was not Jewish. The historical references, however, allow her to dramatize her rebellion against the oppressive father. The entire poem may seem to have stretched the permissible limits of analogy. This piece of “light verse,” as Plath called it, constantly shifts between grotesque, childish flights and allusions and deadly serious rage toward the father-Nazi. On one hand, Plath characterizes her situation in terms of nursery rhymes, recalling the tale of the old lady in the shoe; and on the other, of Jews being taken off to “Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen” (p. 50). The father is a “Panzer-man,” but he is also called “gobbledy-goo.” German and English intermix grotesquely: “I never could talk to you. / The tongue stuck in my jaw. / It stuck in a barb wire snare. / Ich, ich, ich, ich.”

There is a line as startling and compact as this: “Every woman adores a Fascist”; but there is also the fatuousness of the lines following; “The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you” (p. 50). And the end of the poem drops the carefully established Nazi allegory for a piece of vampire lore. Plath imagines that a vampire-husband has impersonated the dead Nazi-father for seven years of marriage, drinking the wife’s blood, until she has finally put a stake through his heart (the traditional method of destroying the vampire).

“Daddy” is obviously an attempt to do away altogether with the idealized father; but it also makes clear how difficult a task that is. Daddy keeps returning in the poem

in different guises: statue, shoe, Nazi, teacher, devil, and vampire. If the starting point of Plath’s idealization of the father was the heroic white patriarch of “Lament,” the end point is the black vampire of “Daddy.” The father has been reenvisioned in terms of his sexual dominance, cruelty, and authoritarianism. Ironically, the father, who was mourned in the earlier poems as the innocent victim of deathly external forces, has himself been transformed into the agent of death.

It is as if the underside of Plath’s feelings toward the father had surfaced, abolishing the entire “epic” that she described in “Electra on Azalea Path” and replacing it with a new cast of characters and a new plot. The story is no longer the daughter’s attempt to reunite with and to marry the dead father; it is now the daughter’s wish to overthrow his dominance over her imagination and to “kill” him and the man who takes his place the vampire in “Daddy,” the Nazi in “Lady Lazarus,” or the husband in “Purdah.” Rebellion and anger supplant the grief and depression of the earlier poems.

Both of the men against whom the voice rails in “Daddy” have committed crimes against the speaker’s heart: Daddy is the one who “Bit my pretty red heart in two,” and the lover who serves as a replacement for Daddy “said he was you / And drank my blood for a year.” Thus the female subject’s revenge must be structured similarly: she has killed Daddy and his representative (“There’s a stake in your fat black heart”) by means of a figurative rape. She thrusts a deadly force through Daddy’s evil center, his source of power over her, his heart. And the very fact that she speaks constitutes a violation of Daddy’s privilege and power.

Plath here reverses the metaphorical expectations and writes a poem that is overwhelmingly powerful but also unsettling since the speaker of the poem does not undermine the system of control which violates her but rather turns the tables, accepting this gendering of violence as inevitable. If she will no longer be a victim, she must become a victimizer. If she will no longer be raped, she must become a rapist. If she will no longer subject herself to violation, she must herself become a violator.

Plath’s final vicious name-calling, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.? (80) prematurely ends the poem. Although Plath seemingly has put her dangerous, dark obsession with her father in the past, the metaphor of her extremely immense Electra complex lingers with ambiguity present throughout the entire poem. Readers can observe the residual consequences of clinging to a complex long after the physical end of emotional abuse through Plath’s strong yet ambiguous poem.

10. Critical Analysis

[Q. Produce a critical analysis of Sylvia Plath’s poem Daddy.] “Daddy” begins on a note of rejection by means of the repetition of the phrase “You do not do.” Uttered once, it is a statement of a fact or of an opinion. Repeated,

it denotes a realization that, the poem shows, is simultaneously painful and liberating. Although the second line reveals that it is a “black shoe” that does “not do,” the fact that the first line appears directly under the poem’s title pulls the reference backward to the title as well, leaving the intended, pervasive suggestion that it is the speaker’s father who does “not do.” With a focus on the shoe, “in which” the speaker has “lived like a foot / For thirty years, poor and white,” Plath is expressing a claustrophobic condition that has haunted the narrator lifelong. Additionally, she is coloring that personal suffering with the hint of social oppression suggested by the allusion to the squalid conditions in which the poor must live and the power the color black has to overwhelm the color white.

The world she has lived in, like a black shoe, is severe, formal, confining, and constricting. She experiences herself to be more like a foot, a limb or appendage, than a person, integral unto herself. In contrast to the shoe, she is blanched, poor, devitalized. Because of the constraint of the shoe-like environment she has “Barely dar[ed] to breathe or” sneeze. Instead of saying “sneeze” Plath uses the onomatopoeic “Achoo.” Using the sound of the sneeze rather than the word “sneeze,” Plath is able to rhyme with the “oo” sound that runs throughout the poem. It is a sound of fear and dread and of surprise and release. It reflects the conflicting emotions that have determined the speaker’s life and that are addressed in the poem.

The speaker needs her father and needs to be rid of that need. The need for him that haunts her is a little girl’s need that has never been satisfied. Consequently, neediness has not let go of the girl, even after she has become a woman. The child inside the adult is conjured by the word “Achoo.” Using the sound instead of the word suggests the child’s limited capacity for abstraction and untempered connection to immediacy. “Achoo” also suggests the German word “Achtung,” Attention!

Thus, it foreshadows the imagery of Nazi atrocities the speaker will introduce as metaphor for her situation. In addition, using “Achoo” for its sound quality suggests the same thing may be done to its companion rhyme “shoe.” “Shoe” may suggest the onomatopoeic homonym “shoo,” a word spoken along with a dismissive gesture of the wrist, meaning, go away, leave me alone, one of the characteristic themes of “Daddy”.

The underlying matter of the poem is autobiographical. Otto Plath died when Sylvia was eight-in the poem she says ten. It is an age when a child still needs her father, before she reaches the age when she needs to rid herself of her childish attachments in order to become available for mature ones. The last three lines of the stanza offer contrasting images of the dead father. Two aspects or two perceptions of him are thus revealed. He is “a bag full of God,” and is consequently “marble heavy” for her. He is also a one-legged cadaver. One of Otto Plath’s legs was in fact amputated as a result of the diabetes that actually killed him. His intact leg is shown with a gangrenous big toe sticking out under the sheet covering his corpse. The sight of that toe to his daughter deflates-although it does not destroy-his divinity. The

existence of the poem attests to that.

In her description of the big toe, which is introduced as “Big as a Frisco seal,” at the end of the second stanza but developed in the third, Plath introduces into the poem the method by which she can accomplish the murder. The ghastly toe becomes the opportunity for a verbal cadenza, for the exercise of poetry. The poem in this stanza is very deliberately announcing itself as a poem by the display of virtuosity in lines like “Big as a Frisco seal / And a head in the freakish Atlantic / Where it pours bean green over blue / In the waters off beautiful Nauset.” The poet is asserting herself as a poet, as if saying “Look what I can do.” To write like that is to grab hold of one’s independence.

Nauset is a beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, near Plath’s home. The introduction of Nauset not only enhances the scenery of the poem. It is allusive, suggesting Nausicaa, the girl in Homer’s Odyssey. Nausicca is playing on a beach in Greece with her companions when she spots Odysseus, who has been washed up half-dead upon the beach. She rescues him and brings him to her father, in whose court he tells his story. The hint of Nausicaa’s presence in “Daddy” provides a counter-image to the murderous girl, the poet who must kill her father, in the image of the savior girl who brings life back to Odysseus, a man old enough to be her father.

Following the display of poetic virtuosity, the poet returns to a straight declarative sentence: “I used to pray to recover you.” “Pray” is particularly apt in the context of having to bear “a bagful of God.” The last line of the stanza abandons tense structure entirely for a kind of disgusted exclamation, dismissing her father in his mother tongue: “Ach, du,” You. It is not an address but a reflection on how impossible he was.

After the exclamation that ended the third stanza, the fourth begins with a halting return to syntax, but the first three lines are unable to form themselves into a sentence. “In the German tongue, in the Polish town / Scraped flat by the roller / Of wars, wars, wars.” is missing a verb. “Scraped” is only a predicate adjective modifying the Polish town. What about the German tongue or war ravaged Polish town? The next line does not say. It only reveals that “the name of the town is common.” That fact is then supported by two more lines of testimony from the speaker’s “Polack friend.” Does the demeaning term suggest her father’s snobbery. Why is this important to the poem? Perhaps it indicates how difficult it is for the speaker to focus on the complexity of her relationship with her father.

The fourth stanza spills over into the fifth. The speaker does not even know the specific town in Poland from which her father came, since many have the same name, and the name was German rather than in Polish. This want of knowledge is symptomatic of the entire relationship the poet had with her father. Not knowing where he came from, “I never could talk to you. / The tongue stuck in my jaw.”

Not talking about her father who is so unknowable to her, the poet speaks of

his effect on her, of her inability to speak. The fifth stanza ended with a near cliché: her tongue stuck in her jaw when she tried to speak with him. Now she describes that blockage using imagery that has been prepared earlier through references to war and, through references to the German language and black shoes, to Nazism. Her inability to speak is expressed in the image of “a barb wire snare.” That snare is represented linguistically in the repetition four times over of “ich,” the German word for “I.”

But the line of “ichs” represents not only the metal thorns of barb wire. It gives voice to a guttural blockage and anger that constitute a prime component of the speaker’s character and that lie at the bottom of this poem. Her tongue somewhat loosened by grinding out angry “ichs,” the poet begins to express that anger in images of Nazi barbarity. She “could hardly speak” to anyone she tells her father. He so invaded her consciousness that she saw him in others: “I thought every German was you.” He has, in addition, tainted the German language for her. She calls it “obscene”.

Having identified his oppressiveness, she begins to express her anger at her father in a convoluted manner, identifying herself as a victim, his victim, and calling up images of Nazi brutality, identifying herself with the recipients of violence, the Jews taken by cattle cars to extermination terminals, rather than as an agent of anger.

Freely associating around German themes, the speaker segues into what momentarily seems a lyrical invocation of Germanic Austrian pastoral landscapes, the Tyrol and Vienna. But she subverts that lyricism in the next line. “The snows of the Tyrol … /Are not very pure,” and “the clear beer of Vienna / [is] not very … true.” By extension, there is something deceptive about her father’s charm. The poet challenges the lie of his authority as well as asserting the power of her vulnerability. Being wounded seems to be a source of insight as she speaks of her “gypsy ancestress and my weird luck” and her pack of Tarot cards, cards that are used in divination and seeing the future.

Returning from the reverie of the preceding stanzas to address her father directly, the speaker says she has “always been scared of” him. Rather than addressing that fear directly, Plath returns to metaphor as a means of expressing what was frightening about him without really saying anything specific. She turns her father into a stereotype or caricature, drawing him in the costume of a Nazi and defining him by means of that costume. She really says nothing specific about him when she describes him “With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo./ And your neat mustache/ And your Aryan eye, bright blue. / Panzer-man, panzer-man, O you.” She is saying something, however, about herself in relation to him: she feels his awful power the way Jews felt the awful power of their Nazi tormentors.

The Nazi imagery of the last stanzas challenges the sense of divinity that the speaker had indicated, in the second stanza, hovered around her father, but not her

sense of his power. “Not God but a swastika,” is the emblem she uses now to define him. The swastika becomes a huge, looming blackness that entirely blots out the sky. “Every woman adores a Fascist,” the poet proceeds to assert without either connection to the preceding lines or substantiation. The line can, consequently, be conceived as a kind of self-defense, an excuse for the affection she has felt for him and apparently still does, despite her response to him as if he were a Nazi. But she does not say “1.” She says “Every woman.” Such generalization absolves her from being responsible for the unwanted affection to which she still is prone.

At the same time, by her continuing description of his fascist allure (“The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you”), she is expressing contempt for her own womanish admiration for and her own inclination to surrender to brutality.

Leaving the allusive for the actual, the speaker recalls her actual father not wearing the Nazi uniform with which she had invested him. She refers not to her own memory of him but to a picture of him. He is standing at a blackboard. He was a college teacher. Her evidence of his evil now is the fact that he had a cleft in his chin. This ordinary physical characteristic takes her, by association, to represent him as the devil because the devil is popularly pictured as having a cleft foot. Although the cleft was in his chin and not his foot, she says he is no less the devil.

Her substantiation of his diabolical nature returns her to metaphor. He “Bit my pretty red heart in two,” she says, apparently because, the following line suggests, he died while she was still a child. By dying he broke her heart. Her bitterness is not just the fruit of anger, it seems, but also of an unassimilated grief: “At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you. / I thought even the bones would do.” The father she began to describe with loathing is actually a man she sought with longing so strong that she tried to realize the great romantic trope of attempting to join him, to meet him, in death.

“But they pulled me out of the sack, / And they stuck me together with glue” she writes. Plath’s suicide attempt was unsuccessful and she was treated with electroconvulsive therapy. She was stuck back together, but still stuck with her ambivalent desire for her father. She trumped those who her defeated effort to merge with her father in death with a clever piece of spite work: “I made a model of you / A man with a Meinkampf look.” The stanza ends before the sentence is completed, structurally representing the thread of her life pulling through its various moments.

“And a love of the rack and the screw” finishes the sentence and begins a new stanza but continues old business, although she claims to be “through.” Not being able to join her father in death, she constructed a death-bearing man in life, whom she married, to whom she “said I do, I do.” Because her father did not “do” she said “I do.”

But it was to a man whom she characterizes as a “vampire” who “drank my

blood for a year,” she says first but then changes the number to “seven years.” Seven years is actually the amount of time Plath was married to the poet Ted Hughes at the time she wrote “Daddy.” That marriage, at the time she wrote the poem, was disintegrating and she includes her husband along with her father as one of her victims: “If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two.” The irony is that she seems rather the victim of both of those men’s denial of love. Only in the angry, love-hungry fantasy of her poem are they her victims. Marriage, although unsuccessful, perhaps just because it was unsuccessful and required a second “killing,” unbound her from her father, whom she has, figuratively, roused from death. He is the one to whom she is confessing in this confessional poem. The confession made, he “can lie back now.”

The image of the vampire she attached to her husband reverts to her father, She addresses him as if he has been killed in the only way a vampire can be killed, with a stake through his heart. Unlike hers, which she described in stanza twelve as “pretty red” his is a “fat black heart.”

The poem concludes as the speaker transposes her feelings onto a whole group of people. As before, through all the Nazi imagery, the speaker transforms the offense against her into a larger offense against an entire community of people, so weak is her ego in a reality the poem cannot change: “And the villagers never liked you / They are dancing and stamping on you. They always knew it was you.”

The final line “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through,” is ambiguous. At first glance, it seems to be saying, I am through with you; I have exorcised you successfully, killed your hold on me. But the word “you” does not appear. It seems what she is actually doing in the last line is saying that she has finished speaking to him, finished her confession, finished the poem, succeeded in the assertion of herself accomplished by her invocation of him. But he is still a “bastard” and his ability to keep a hold on her despite all her poetic bravado is confirmed by that angry word.

Although confessional poetry as a genre was new, a poetry of confession was not. Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats, for example, all wrote poems that are essentially confessional. What distinguished the confessional poetry of the second half of the twentieth century was its closeness to the bone of its practitioners’ experience and the climate in which it was produced, its depth of revelation in a culture of conformity where “dirty laundry” was not, properly, aired in public.

Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy” appeared in her collection Ariel, which was published in 1965. Yet, the poems in the collection were written mere months before Plath’s death in February 1963. These poems are some of the best examples of confessional poetry, or poetry that is extremely personal and autobiographical in nature.


                                                      MARKS 5

1. Explain:

You do not do, you do not do Any more, black shoe

In which I have lived like a foot For thirty years, poor and white, Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

The poem seems to begin with the speaker talking to a shoe, and telling it that it doesn’t “do,” or work for her, anymore (the repetition of “do” here is technically an example of a poetic device called antanaclasis). The speaker then declares that she has been stuck inside said shoe for her entire life, without fortune or access to the colorful outside world, scared of making the slightest sound. Of course, the speaker isn’t actually talking about a shoe. The poem’s title is “Daddy,” and the “You” the speaker addresses in the first line-via apostrophe is really her father. The “black shoe” is likely a metaphor for her father’s memory, which has a terrible hold on the speaker. The oppression the speaker feels-her poverty, her fear, her inability to breathe-are directly attributed to her father. The speaker is aware of this, and the poem begins with her renouncing her father’s memory: “You do not do, you do not do / Any more, black shoe.”

The first stanza of “Daddy” has a sing-song rhythm created by the repetition (more specifically, the epizeuxis) of “You do not do” in the first line and the strong assonance of /oo/ sounds, particularly at the ends of lines. In fact, it is not only reminiscent of a child’s nursery rhyme; the image of the speaker living like a foot in a shoe is a reference (a.k.a. an allusion) to the famous nursery rhyme that begins: “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.” Together with the title, the fact that the first stanza evokes a nursery rhyme immediately infantilizes the speaker. Despite being thirty years old, she refers to her father as “Daddy” and to a sneeze as an “Achoo.”

Moreover, it’s clear from her description of the “black shoe” in which she is trapped like a foot-“Barely able to breathe-that her situation in life is oppressive. The image of the foot is telling. If the body is a hierarchy, then the head is in control: it exists at the top, and makes decisions for the entire body. It follows that the foot is at the bottom, bearing the weight of the entire body. The shoe itself is also an oppressive image. Inside the shoe it is dark and there is no air. It’s not hard to understand why the speaker would want to free herself from such an existence.



6. Which Poetic Devices Are Used in “Daddy”?

It has 16 stanzas, each with five lines, making a total of 80 lines. The meter is roughly tetrameter, four beats, but also uses pentameter with a mix of stresses. Thirty-seven lines are end-stopped and enjambment is frequently used. Metaphor and simile are present, as are half-rhymes, alliteration, and assonance. The father is compared to a black shoe, a bag full of God, a giant, cold, marble statue, a Nazi, a swastika, a fascist, a sadist, and a vampire. The speaker uses baby talk to describe truly dark and painful feelings. She calls him “daddy,” she calls a sneeze “achoo,” “gobbledygoo,” she gets tongue-tied and stammery (“Ich, ich, ich, ich”), and uses singsong repetitions. The juxtaposition of innocence and pain emphasizes both. There’s also the howling, mournful “choo choo” sound of a steam train throughout: “You do not do, you do not do,” “achoo,” black shoe, glue, you, do, du, “I do, I do,” shoe,

two, screw, through, gobbledygoo, Jew, blue…. This repeated “ooo-ooo” sound gives the poem momentum, energy, and conjures up the image of a train chuffing its way to the final destination (which, in this case, is a Nazi death camp). 7. Explain :

I have always been scared of you, With your Luftwaffe, your And your neat mustache And your Aryan eye, bright blue. Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You

Here, the speaker finally finds the courage to address her father, now that he is dead. She admits that she has always been afraid of him. She implies that her father had something to do with the airforce, as that is how the word “Luftwaffe” translates to English. “Gobbledygook” however, is simply gibberish. This implies that the speaker feels that her father and his language made no sense to her. In this instance, she felt afraid of him and feared everything about him.

She never was able to understand him, and he was always someone to fear. She was afraid of his “neat mustache” and his “Aryan eye, bright blue”. This description of his eyes implies that he was one of those Germans whom the Nazis believed to be a superior race. He was Aryan, with blue eyes. He was something fierce and terrifying to the speaker, and she associates him closely with the Nazis. A “panzermam” was a German tank driver, and so this continues the comparison between her father and a Nazi.

8. Is “Daddy” a confessional poetry?

There’s little doubt that Sylvia Plath was trying to exorcise the spirits of both her father and her ex husband Ted Hughes in this poem. At first, her marriage had been euphoric, but after the birth of her two children, life became much harder. News that Hughes was having an affair with Assia Wevill, a dark-haired woman they met in London, and of Wevill’s pregnancy by Hughes could have been the tipping point for the sensitive and manic poet. She took her own life on February 11th, 1963, a little more than a year after writing “Daddy.” Although we can’t say that the speaker is Plath herself, “Daddy” is a quintessential example of confessional poetry, which is very emotional and autobiographical in nature. This confessional, subjective style of writing became popular in the late 50s to early 60s.

9. Explain :

You stand at the blackboard, daddy, In the picture I have of you,

I thought even the bones would do.

In the first line of the extracted stanzas, the speaker describes her father as a teacher standing at the blackboard. The author’s father was, in fact, a professor. This

is how the speaker views her father. She can see the cleft in his chin as she imagines him standing there at the blackboard. Then she describes that the cleft that is in his chin, should really be in his foot. This simply means that she views her father as the devil himself. The devil is often characterized as an animal with cleft feet, and the speaker believes he wears his cleft in his chin rather than in his feet. Her description of her father as a “black man” does not refer to his skin color but rather to the darkness of his soul. This stanza ends with the word “who” because the author breaks the stanza mid-sentence.

With the first line of the next stanza, the speaker finishes her sentence and reveals that her father has broken her heart. She says that he has “bit [her] pretty red heart in two”. The rest of this stanza reveals a deeper understanding of the speaker’s relationship with her father. Even though he was a cruel, overbearing brute, at one point in her life, she loved him dearly. It is possible that as a child, she was able to love him despite his cruelty. As an adult, however, she cannot see past his vices.

The next stanza reveals that the speaker was only ten years old when her father died, and that she mourned for him until she was twenty. She even tried to end her life in order to see him again. She thought that even if she was never to see him again in an after-life, to simply have her bones buried by his bones would be enough of a comfort to her.

10. What type of poem is Sylvia Plath’s Daddy?

“Daddy” is a poem Plath had to write. It’s successful because you catch glimpses of her real life bubbling up through metaphor and allegory, but she never makes it fully confessional. That’s why I don’t agree with those critics who say this poem is nothing but a selfish, immature outburst, a revenge poem. It most certainly isn’t. You have to have courage to express such pain in this manner and you could say that courage is a sign of great maturity. When read through as a whole, “Daddy” stops and starts, splutters and shunts, travels over rough ground, and screeches round corners. At one time you’re above the whole of the USA, the next in some sort of nightmare tunnel or cinema where they’re showing a life story of your own bete noire. So, Daddy is both simple and complicated, a bloody nursery rhyme from voodoo land, a dark, lyrical train of thought exploring what is still a taboo subject.

11. Explain :

But they pulled me out of the sack, And they stuck me together with glue. And then I knew what to do. I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look

In this stanza, the speaker reveals that she was not able to commit suicide, even though she tried. She reveals that she was found and “pulled…out of the sack”

and stuck back together with glue”. At this point, the speaker experienced a revelation. She realized that she must recreate her father. She decided to find and love a man who reminded her of her father. Freud’s theory on the Oedipus complex seems to come into play here. The theory that girls fall in love with their fathers as children, and boys with their mothers, also suggests that these boys and girls grow up to find husbands and wives that resemble their fathers and mothers.

The speaker has already suggested that women love a brutal man, and perhaps she is now confessing that she was once such a woman. This is why the speaker says that she finds a “model” of her father who is “a man in black with a Meinkampf look”. While “Mein Kampf” means “my struggle”, the last line of this stanza most likely means that the man she found to marry looked like her father and like Hitler.

12. How does the poetess progress through the poem?

Sylvia Plath (fead her biography here) begins Daddy with her present understanding of her father and the kind of man that he was. She then offers readers some background explanation of her relationship with her father. As Daddy progresses, the readers begin to realize that the speaker has not always hated her father. She has not always seen him as a brute, although she makes it clear that he always has been oppressive. As a child, the speaker did not know anything apart from her father’s mentality, and so she prays for his recovery and then mourns his death. She even wishes to join him in death. She then tries to re-create him by marrying a man like him. It isn’t until years after her father’s death that she becomes aware of the true brutal nature of her relationship. Though he has been dead in flesh for years, she finally decides to let go of his memory and free herself from his oppression forever.

13. Explain : If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed twoThe vampire who said he was you

Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

In this penultimate stanza of Daddy, the speaker reminds the readers that she has already claimed to have killed her father. She revealed that he actually died before she could get to him, but she still claims the responsibility for his death. Now she says that if she has killed one man, she’s killed two. This is most likely in reference to her husband. She refers to her husband as a vampire, one who was supposed to be just like her father. As it turned out, he was not just like her father. In fact, he drained the life from her. This is why she refers to him as a vampire who drank her blood. It is not clear why she first says that he drank her blood for “a year”. However, the speaker then changes her mind and says, “seven years, if you want to know.” When the speaker says, “daddy, you can lie back now” she is telling him that the part of him that has lived on within her can die now, too.

In the final stanza, the speaker reveals that her father, though dead, has somehow lived on, like a vampire, to torture her. It is claimed that she must kill her father the way that a vampire must be killed, with a stake to the heart. She then goes on to explain to her father that “the villag never liked you”. She explains that they dance and stomp on his grave. The speaker says that the villagers “always knew it was [him]”. This suggests that the people around them always suspected that there was something different and mysterious about her father. With the final line, the speaker tells her father that she is through with him. While he has been dead for years, it is clear that her memory of him has caused her great grief and struggle. The speaker was unable to move on without acknowledging that her father was, in fact, a brute. Once she was able to come to terms with what he truly was, she was able to let him stop torturing her from the grave.

14. What effect did the Great Depression have on Plath’s poem Daddy?

The poem written by Sylvia Plath called Daddy was greatly affected by her depression. In many ways, her father’s death built a foundation for her writing. Many years after the death of her father, Sylvia Plath finally decided to channel her entire struggle to overcome her father’s death in her poem “Daddy”. This feeling of not being able to let go is observable in the line “You died before I had time-“. This line in the poem trails off into an empty thought, observably stating that Plath wanted to spend more time with her father. “Daddy” tries in many ways to embody her immense feelings of depression throughout her life in the lines: “I was ten when they buried you. / At twenty I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you. / I thought even the bones would do.”

Sylvia Plath uses symbolization by substituting events of the Holocaust with events in her own life, adding to the emotional impact of the poem. She uses harsh imagery in her poem of her recently separated husband, “man in black with a Meinkampf look,” so the reader can understand her pain and suffering. The tone in this poem is somewhat different in respect to many of Sylvia Plath’s other poems. According to Jon Rosenblatt, “Daddy” attempts to “kill” her obsession with her father, and end her suffering. She finishes by giving the false illusion of closure with, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”. The poem Daddy, in a variety of ways, encapsulates Plath’s entire life’s worth of depression, which was filled with pain and suffering, in a dramatic and gothic-styled poem.

15. How do Plath and Larkin explore family life?

Family is central to anyone’s existence, and in the 1950s, the family were ideal to one’s immediate and prosperous survival and both Sylvia Plath and Philip Larkin dealt with this issue with subtle sensitivity, but with varying effects on their targeted audience. In ‘Daddy’, Plath contemplates the abrupt and undeniable misery that a person feels due to the loss of a much-loved and respected parent, in this case, a father. Plath titles this poem, ‘Daddy’ in honour, or so we are led to think, of her own

father, who passed away when she was ten, from complications surrounding the amputation of his gangrene infected leg. She is besotted with bitterness and anger, and in many ways is the personification of all her childhood desires and expectations of knowing her father, and it is only when this expectation is not fulfilled, that she turns to anger to cloud her own disillusioned state of who a father is. The expert use of colloquial language within the endearment term, ‘Daddy’ suggests a fondness and respect for one another, that is, the child and the parent. It also suggests a childlike naivety which is ever so common within Plath’s work, which implies that inside of her she still holds on to the image of her father: her idol. Also, her father is being represented as the figure of authority, the person whom Plath was able to turn to, and feel a true and deeply heartfelt connection with; a connection that may not have been so established with her mother, as Plath’s poem ‘Medusa’ strongly implies especially in the line, ‘There is nothing between us. In addition to this, the first line of the first stanza strongly suggests a deflation in their relationship which is explored through the adjective, ‘black.’ This not only connects with the childhood innocence, and the constant need for reassurance, but also suggests that the loss of her father has left Plath with a big, gaping black hole deep within her, leaving her mercilessly void of emotion. This is supported by the fact that for the duration of her life, Plath struggled with her mental stability, for …thirty years, poor and white.’

Colour imagery is very important and is used very often within Plath’s poetry and suggests bleakness, and a sterility which may indicate paleness and her etiolated self. This gives me the impression that Plath has slowly been drained of her lustre for life which unfortunately died with her father, and perhaps leads towards the need for Plath to let go of her own insecurities which have arisen from the untimely death of her father by stating within the first line of the second stanza and ending in the second line of the first stanza solemnly, ‘Daddy, I have had to kill you/You died before I had time.’ This is a very interesting quote and is open to a variety of interpretations, one of which is that Plath is regretting the possible fact that she was unable to properly grieve the death of her father as it occurred at such a young age. Another suggestion is that her father was in many ways the barrier between the young Plath and her mother, who she did not have the most vibrant of relationships with, and this is seen through the use of direct speech. In many ways this is similar to Larkin, as direct speech is also employed skilfully within one of Larkin’s best loved poems, ‘Dockery and Son’ is which the protagonist is regrettably reminiscing and questioning the human ability to make decisions, or whether we as humans are only subject to the dictating unexamined and explained assumptions and bigotry.


1. To whom is this poem addressed?

To the narrator’s (or speaker’s) dead father.

2. ‘You do not do, you do not do / Any more, black shoe’ – What effect do these lines create?

The beginning of the poem leads the reader to expect a nursery rhyme.

3. With whom does the speaker have a tortured relationship?

As reflected in her poem ‘Daddy’, the speaker has the most tortured relationship with her pr

4. With whom does the speaker compare her ‘Daddy’?

To a Nazi, a vampire and Adolf Hitler.

5. What is the allusion of the ‘barb wire’?

The barbed wire of the concentration camps.

6. When and where was the poem published? Who wrote it?

“Daddy” is a controversial and highly anthologized poem by the American poet Sylvia Plath. Published posthumously in 1965 as part of the collection Ariel. Sylvia Plath.

7. ‘The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna / Are not very pure or true.’ What do these lines imply? 

Although her father has bright blue, Aryan eyes, the narrator feels that she would not have passed the Nazi test — she claims to have a ‘gipsy ancestress’ and says that she ‘may be a bit of a Jew’. The Nazi obsession with purity of race would have sent her ‘chuffing’ off to the concentration camps, she believes she is not really a pure Aryan.

8. ‘And I said I do, I do’ — What does this line in the fourteenth stanza refer to?

The narrator’s marriage.

9. What’s the name of Sylvia PLath’s father?

Otto Plath.

10. Who is the ‘model’ mentioned in these lines: ‘And then I knew what to do. / I made a model of you, /. A man in black with a Meinkampf look / And a love of the rack and the screw’? Hanollessa

The speaker’s husband.

11. What idea do you get of the speaker’s husband from the line “And drank my blood for a year, / Seven years, if you want to know”?

That her husband drained her life and energy during their marriage.

12. What do you know about Otto Plath?

Otto Plath emigrated from Germany at the age of 15 in 1900. He learned English in NYC before moving to Wisconsin in order for his grandparents to support his education. By the time he became Sylvia Plath’s father he was a Professor of Biology and German at Boston University. He is remembered for his work in entomology with a focus on bees.

13. When did the narrator’s father die?

The narrator’s father died when she was ten.

14. What does she mean by ‘I have had to kill you’?

The narrator wishes she could be rid of the overburdening memory she has of he, father.

15. What type of poem is Sylvia Plath’s Daddy?

Sylvia Plath’s confessional poem “Daddy” is a disturbing poem about a woman’s relationship with two men: her father and her husband. This woman lost her father when she was young and suffered terribly after his death. She meets a man she would call her husband, but he only causes her more pain.

16. How does the narrator feel about her father? Do you get any contrast to this feeling?

The narrator displays ambivalent feelings for ‘Daddy’.

She contradicts the tone of the rest of the poem in the line ‘At twenty I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you’.

17. Why did she contradict?

If hatred, rage and fear were the only emotions the narrator feel towards her father, would she be so desperate to return to him? Although the narrator describes her father also as ‘the black man who / Bit my pretty red heart in two’, she immediately follows this with the line, ‘I was ten when they buried you.’ The ‘black man’ is death, who violently destroys the narrator at a tender age.

18. Which famous British author did Sylvia marry?

Ted Hughes.

19. How did Plath die?

She died by committing suicide. 20. Plath’s poetry is considered part of which movement? The movement of Confessional Poetry.


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