I first read Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" as a teen, having spent years delving into the history of the persecution of the Jews. I also was the daughter of a cold, misogynistic, Jewish father of German/Austrian parents. I found her poem cathartic and felt I understood every line on a visceral level without having to analyse it.
Many years later, having spent months taking care of my father until his death, the poem still speaks from my heart and makes me weep.
Having grown up with my own father and knowing his Austrian-born father, then having lived in Germany and Austria myself, watching how emotionally repressed the people are [and how they repress their children], I could imagine Sylvia's father's influence was at once both overpoweringly present, and utterly absent. The Germanic father makes himself felt by his authoritarian aura which is pervasive whether he is at home or away. At the same time, he is emotionally absolutely absent. His attitude toward women is subconsciously arrogant and dismissive (even for many men today who say they are feminists, not realizing how deeply rooted this attitude is).
If she had had a chance to interact with her father all her life, perhaps Sylvia might have found some way to examine, process and work through all that she absorbed subliminally as a young child. Perhaps she, like me, would have found ways to move past the guilt she must have felt at hating her father. Perhaps she too would have found understanding, if not forgiveness.
Instead, she was left with this unassailable, iconic image of him. As she grew older and understood the effect he had on her, the frustration she felt at not being able to communicate her pain, love and anguish to him must have been immense.
This poem is a beautiful declaration of independence - a sentiment that ultimately was unable to sustain her.
To me, nothing about this poem is political. The imagery is so rich. The shoe - the box into which she had to fit herself to be a good little girl (children seen but not heard is still the default in traditional Germanic families) was also the boot in the face. Also, as someone else suggests here, perhaps his empty shoe after the amputation.
"Daddy I have had to kill you," recalls to me the Zen saying that if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. It is a metaphorical killing. In the case of the Buddha, we are freeing ourselves from our mental image of who he should be. In the case of Daddy, Sylvia is declaring herself free of the oppression and repression which, after his death, she continued to enforce on herself to perpetuate his memory.
In talking about his town, she expresses her desire to retrace his steps, to know him from her current perspective as an adult. Maybe if she could, she would know herself better. But she is frustrated in her attempt to do even that.
All she can recall of him is her terror of him as a looming, monolithic creature. Maybe he was so cold and withholding because she was really a Jew and he a Nazi? It felt that way to her. How could Daddy not love me, set me on his lap, make much of me? Something must have been as wrong with me, in his eyes, as was wrong about the Jews in the Nazis' eyes.
She hates him and wants to punish him for the pain she feels. She would like to tell him to his face, but cannot. The villagers punish him in a way she will never be able to do.
At the same time, loving, and wanting to know and be close to him, she did what most of us do who have unresolved and paradoxical feelings of pain, love, and abandonment about a parent, she found a man who would treat her the same way and married him.
"Daddy, Daddy, you bastard, I'm through," is at once the defiant declaration and the wistful cry of a woman who wants to be free. Later events suggests she could not sustain that sentiment.
In my own experience, having spent thousands upon thousands of dollars in therapy and spent years in spiritual practise, I'll never really be through. The pain of having lived with a father who could never express love for or pride in me, who refused to speak to me or have my name mentioned in his presence for years because he did not like my life style, who, even when I moved 3,000 miles with my child to live with and take care of him, wiping his behind, picking him up off the floor at 3 am when he fell going to the bathroom, could not tell me he appreciated or loved me will never fade.
I am just grateful to have had the resources and teachers to help me learn to live with the pain and slowly learn to like myself enough not to commit suicide. I am grateful to have had the help I needed to get to a place where I could, in fact felt the need to, move cross-country and be with him in a loving way until he died.
I firmly believe that, at the age of 16, I was headed in the same direction Sylvia went. Reading "Daddy" then opened my eyes to the possibility that I could start directing my anger away from myself so that I didn't sink into that final, hopeless depression she was unable to escape.
Thank you! Sylvia
Guilderland , USA
Friday, 11 May 2007
There have been many useful comments on this page, and I agree with most of them. but I have to answer a couple of posts.
1) First of all, to Liz Hood (London, UK, Thursday, August 1, 2002) who said: "Theories such as the Electra Complex are far to over analytical in my opinion. Why can't an individual simply possess incredulous psychological trauma when a loved parent will not even return unconditional love by surviving for you?"
Of course they can. But Sylvia Plath very obviously did have an Electra complex, at least if her poems are anything to go by. There's nothing over analytical about it. It seems to me that you are one of the people who either feel uncomfortable with Freudian theories, or think that they have been overused in popular culture - or both. it would be wrong to apply Oedipus/Electra complex to absolutely everyone and everything, but I don't see how it can possibly be ignored in some cases, as in Plath's case. Not only are the images of her father and her husband constantly merging for her in this poem, but she openly addresses her Electra complex in least two other poems, directly in "Electra on Azalea Path" and only slightly less directly "The Colossus" (by mentioning 'Oresteia', which, of course, is the tragedy based on the myth about Orest and his sister Electra avenging the death of their father Agamemnon on their mother and her lover):
"A blue sky out of the Oresteia
Arches above us. O father, all by yourself
You are pithy and historical as the Roman Forum."
2) I have to ask Kathleen (Kona, USA, Thursday, November 21, 2002) - what do you mean by "the word 'Daddy' in itself is feminine"??
3) To everyone who complains about the Holocaust imagery: I can't believe all this fuss you're making. For God's sake, "Daddy" is a poem, not an essay or an article!!! It is not meant to be taken literally!! By the same logic, anybody who dares to use the metaphor of 'witchhunt' or 'burning at the stake' (which people do all the time) should be condemned for tastelessness and insulting the real victims of withchunts! And a poem is certainly a place where strong metaphors and hyperbole are far more acceptable than anywhere else.
4) I always loved this poem, but now I feel I have to stress that I have never took it to be about Plath's actual father - rather about her own image of him, which he had built in her mind and lived with and adored for so many years. (same thing goes for "The Colossus) It is this image of a powerful, male figure that turns from God to devil and Nazi. It's not just that I have never thought that Ott Plath was a Nazi (and he wasn't) - I have never attempted to draw any conlusions about him from this poem, I have no idea if he was a good man, and there is no reason to think that he was abusive or cold - I don't know what he was like, as he is only seen through the eyes of an adoring daughter, and his crime here seems to be that he has 'abandoned' her - i.e. died - and that she adored him so much and could't get rid of his influence. And then the image of the father merges with the image of her husband, and it's hard to tell if she is only blaming Otto for what Hughes has done, or the other way round, too. Another thing I should stress is that I wouldn't draw any conclusions about Ted Hughes's character from this poem either. I never hated him and I never thought he was a monster. BTW I am a feminist, at least I think I am, because in my mind feminism is about fighting for equality between sexes, against patriarchality, against strict traditional gender roles, stereotypes and sexism (whether directed at women or men) - not, as some people seem to think, about hating men or considering them enemies or monsters if they happen to be strong, charismatic or sexual. I don't consider 'Daddy' to be any kind of ideological statement, I consider it to be a deeply emotional, personal poem. I shudder at the idea that someone might take statements such as 'Every woman adores a fascist' literally. Surely it should be understood that what he was doing here was confronting her own demons, her dependancy on strong male figures, her masochism, and her feelings of being let down and wanting to be free.
Finally - to Charlotte (Sydney, Australia): "With references to male influence in her life are forthcoming and direct, she also portrays her desperate need for domination from the male, and this sets her aside form the stereotypical, strong and independent feminist, with no need for any kind of male involvement". True, but that is the stereotypical image indeed. Many strong women are not feminists (many are as anti-feminist as possible), and I wouldn't be so sure that all feminists are strong and independent, either. What are ideological views are and what we are like is not always the same thing. And even while feminists should be strong and independent, I dont see why they must be 'without any male involvement'. That sounds like another cliche. Why would male involvement be a bad thing in itself, if the relationship is equal? I don't think that Sylvia was a feminist, but this poem could be considered 'feminist' in the sense that it asks some painful questions about gender roles and male/female relationships - not in the sense of making any straighforward ideological statements. That's what makes it so great.
Belgrade , Serbia
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Fascinating reading. Everyone seems to be on the same page here, except for a minor disagreement about her "right" to use the imagery of the Holocaust as a way to get at the intensity of the speaker's emotions. (I side with those who point to the ubiquity of the public airing of the evil of the Holocaust during Plath's life. In this light, these references become a natural way of hammering home the torment that characterizes her feelings about her father and her husband.)
Plath is one of my favorite poets. Her use of language is disturbing and gut-wrenching, unlike any writer I know. (This from an 50ish man, not a teenage girl.)
Denver , USA
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
I actually find it interesting that there is not more on the sheer religious connotations in this forum. This has long since high school been one of my favorite poems, and I remember writing countless interpretations on this and other of Sylvia Plath's poems. Many believe that the this poem splits evenly into a father/husband direction. And, I would never debate this. However, her struggle was not the "men" in her life alone, rather with security, faith and escapism, as well as her association of the evil in her life with the masculine.
Plath, as can be noted from much of her poetry in the middle years had a deep fear of "hell" or an afterlife worse than what she knew to be life. Many have even tributed her early failures in suicide to a fear of a worse reality. This poem shows a respectful detatchment from any faith. In taking from this, "Lady Lazarus", and many of her other late poems, you can see that she had attatched to a belief that great good-God, and great Evil-Lucifer could not be separated. She was not just looking for a replacement for her father in her husband, but a replacement for God as well. After all, in her view, God was the greater of the two that betrayed her. Also, in the holocaust, there were extremely religious sentiments in the forefront for the Nazis. They viewed "ethnic cleansing" of the God-fearing populus as a religious benefit to the world, as the Jews were not right before God in their eyes. Easily, this could explain the truly evil nature of God as she had come to see Him. When she says: "Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through" she is detatching herself from all masculine influences that have been sucking her life from her...including God. This latter year detatchment I truly believe was critical to her final success in suicide.
Dallas , USA
Monday, February 13, 2006
Sylvia Plath's poem is fascinating. Not only does she manage to comment on both father and husband through clever metaphors of Hilter and vampire, but she also presents ambiguity in her anger.
The first half (8 stanzas) of the poem seems to be directed at her father; the last half (also 8 stanzas) attacks her husband. And although Plath uses the Hilter metaphor with her father, she does not seem to attack him as she does her husband. On the contrary, she seems to be afraid of him. Yet, she is still willing to embrace him ("I used to pray to recover you"). On the other hand, her comments towards her husband are more aggressive. She uses fierce words to attack him: "brute," "devil," "vampire," and "bastard."
However, what I find amazing is that she seems to merge both into one at certain times (ambiguity). She describes her husband as someone who resembles her father and even calls him "daddy" towards at the end of the poem. Also, could it possibly be that in the second stanza of the poem ("Daddy, I have had to kill you") she could be referring to her husband? After all, it seems that she wants to meet her father - and no doubt, eliminate her husband ("I'm through"). [Unfortunately, she only eliminated herself - committing suicide three months after this poem was completed.] I had never read Sylvia Plath before, I must confess. But from the start, I can see why so many hail her work.
Los Angeles , USA
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
For me, the poem reeks of Freudian influence. The connection between Hughes and her father was discerned only after the collapse of her relationship with the former. It's sort of her last word to Hughes, she's killing him off simultaneously with her dad - "If I've killed one man, I've killed two," she asserts. Fascinating...
Cambridge, MA , USA
Monday, December 12, 2005
This poem can be considered to be confessional. Plath attacks both her husband and her father, symbolically and literally. She relates herself to a Jew during WWII and relates her father to Hitler. This image shows that their relationship is distant and she is afraid of him, she is confined and helpless to his domination. Later on, Plath introduces her husband;" A man in black with a Meinkampf look" who is a "model" of her dad and will torchure her free will as well. And so he did for seven years, as stated in the poem which is relevant to how long their marriage lasted.
Her husband is seen in two metaphors, a Nazi and a vampire. The vampire "drank her blood" , which shows his possessiveness over her, which correlates once more to how her husband is a model of her father: they both confined her.
Plath also searches for the father she never grew up with, he had died when she was eight. It almost seems as though she wants to hate him, more than she did so it is easier for her to say goodbye to his memory. It follows the saying, "Easier to say goodbye to someone you hate than someone you love."
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
I feel the poem "Daddy" is a work of rage and powerlessness of her hate towards her father's death and then how she tried to control this rage by creating a new father in her husband (Ted Hughes) I like the whole idea of the expression of similarity towards the Nazis and her father because of the Nazis destroying a culture and her father's death destroying her world.
Iowa , USA
Monday, September 6, 2004
This poem makes the most sense to me as a work of rage and powerlessness, the uninvited forces that enter our lives and destroy something within us. The similarity that I see between the Nazi theme and the loss of a father is that there can never be enough anger and the Nazis decimated an entire culture in much the same way that the loss of her father forever colored her world.
Careful to note, however, that much of the poem references Hughes (any reference to the black man or vampire, the red being Sylvia). She moves from the initial disintegration of losing her father, to searching for him, to creating him anew in Hughes. Once again, she is powerless over his premature exit, yet in this instance she is able to control the rage, that is, to allow it to come to a boiling point and then be through with it.
The only other thing I'll mention is that it is difficult to understand the poems in Ariel without taking into account Assia and her Israeli background. Here, Sylvia identifies with the rage of the Jews as one who was decimated, thereby stripping Assia of any claim of the tragedy.Jennifer
Within the poem, Plath undertakes an imaginative journey aimed at highlighting the flaws in her own life and the causes of them. An example of how the narrator travels on this imaginative journey is seen through her gradual acceptance of her father's death, and the fact that, although she idolised him, her father was neither flawless nor pivotal in her own development as a person. Plath alludes to the search of goodness in people and describes her own imaginative journey in attempting to fill the void of her father and realise her ideology that there is indeed goodness and perfection in the people around her. Plath's narrator comes to terms with the reality that perfection doesn't exist, and didn't in her father by experiencing an epiphany, where she is awakened to the reality and shameful dynamics of society.Jono
Not only is Plath comparing her suffering to that of the Jews, I believe that deeper down she is trying to sort out her emotions concerning her father's ethnic race. How would a child feel to hear about the horrific actions of the Nazis and know that her father is German? It is easy, especially for young people, to group all German's together, need I remind you of the lind "I thought every German was you."
Even if her father wasn't involved with the Nazis, ask the majority of the people in Germany during the Holocaust if they were Nazis and they most likely will say, "Of course not!" But, inaction can be an action as well and the passivity of those people shows something. Her father probably wasn't even around then, I am by no means well versed in her biography, but to have her father connected to Germany, especially through language and appearance which she mentions several times throughout the poem, and watching Eichmann's trial, must have given her a lot to think of.
Also, comparing her suffering to that of the Jews doesn't neccessarily mean that she felt she was suffering on the level of gas chambers and sick experiments. Jewish suffering goes back to the destruction of the first Temple is Jerusalem BC, and can be felt as a more general thing. Her reference to gypsies brings to mind the "wandering nation." If someone feels that they are alone in the world, that someone is emotionally and physically torturing them, that no one loves them, perhaps not even themself, then it is natural to compare themself to Jews.Sarah
It is fantastic to see such in depth analysis and a vast range of interpretations of the amazing poem Daddy. It's powerful, it's evocative and it feeds the mind on so many levels. Thankyou to everyone for the 'food for thought' you have all given me.
However, I must express my shock and disgust at the posting on 30, Oct, 2000 from the USA by Marge! It is fine to have individual opinions and interpretations of a poem but to accuse Plath as being selfish and cruel to use holocaust imagery (which is a valid point though not my own) and then go on to say: "I am dismayed that she only made passive attempts at suicide, and even then it took her three times to get it right."
How can you condemn someone for one thing and then go on to do something just as bad. A friend recently comitted suicide and I feel that it was extremely sick to wish that someone had comitted suicide sooner.
Tuesday, December 2, 2003
Yes, Daddy is a disturbing depiction of the father-daughter relationship, and yes, the Nazi symbolism can be interpreted (or misinterpreted?) in different ways, but what is often overlooked is the emotional throughline within the poem. In other words, if you take the basic tools of simply absorbing the weight of the words, the colors in each image, and the sounds that she incorporates, I believe it is much "easier" to appreciate and love this poem. It's controversial. It's depressing as hell. But it seems to be overanalyzed to the point where you become disconnected from the universal themes. When I read it, I glean fear, guilt, sincere and deep sadness, the frustration of unfinished business, and the realization that you - as a woman and a human being - have been permanently shaped by your father in ways that even Freud couldn't explain. We can all appreciate those emotions even without biographical information. The affective force that we experience from such brutally honest poetry can be overpowering in a way that leads to dismissal. The desire to "not talk about things" or to conclude that Plath was in the minority of women poets. Therefore, instead of discounting Plath's Daddy or over analyzing it, we should begin with the principles of affective force and a natural emotional reaction.
I just read a very interesting article on the whole Plath "phenomenon" in the latest issue of Psychology Today. It brought up a lot of interesting points, and with good timing as well as the movie was just released, about Sylvia Plath's popularity among teenage/adolescent females.
A point that I agree with is that most of those teenage girls have more of an infatuation with Plath the tragic and stormy figure, rather than Plath the great poet. I find it a little disheartening that Plath has become rather well-known and remembered for being the troubled, intense woman who committed suicide. It's fine to love a figure for their life and their personality, but for someone as incredible as Plath, I believe it is almost a tragedy against their person to not put more emphasis on their art. Of course, this issue does not only apply to Plath, but to many other tragic and troubled artists as well.
This issue has spawned a lot of problems within the "Plath cult" in that there seem to be a lot of generic arguments regarding her marriage with Ted Hughes, reasons for her suicide, detailed analysis of her mentally-troubled personality, and an almost possessive quality of fans (who act as if they actually know Plath). Why aren't there more serious discussions and even gushing statements about her poetry? True, one cannot ignore the life of an important artist when reading into their art, but when that life overshadows the art, it seems an injustice.
I just wanted to know what the opinions of the readers of this forum were on this seemingly cult status of Sylvia Plath.
Kerri Allison Smith
South Windsor, USA
Saturday, November 29, 2003
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.
Upon the surface, the uselessness of the single shoe is a reference to her fathers amputated leg it is no longer needed. Looking deeper the black shoe, I believe, alludes to the repression of grief for her father and denial of the hatred she has for him. Having never mourned him, the memories of past hurt is being let loose. The black shoe is a bind claustrophobic, suffocating. The use of black connotes death and darkness. The poet has hidden away in this shoe, this cage of suppressed emotion, which unsurprisingly builds up to become a lot of pressure. The foot, the bearer of weight in the carriage of the body, becomes a metaphor for the feelings weighing the poet down in all her years of being unable to express her anxieties. This is destructive, which is illustrated by the use of poor and white hidden away from the relief of coming to terms with his death, the poet begins to shrivel emotionally. Barely daring to breathe or Achoo may in some ways illustrate the fear the poet has for her father. However I believe it alludes to her fear of opening the floodgates of grief, of letting go of the security that comes with ignoring her own feelings. In this stanza confusion is shown through the poets indecision, between staying in the shoe in obvious discomfort and letting out her anguish by daring to breathe. This allows me to see the confusion inherent in the poets state of mind.
Thursday, January 16, 2003
To truly understand and appreciate this poem, you must know about her life. She incorporates the tones of her life into each of her poems. Under closer analysis, there are a few undeniable common threads between them.
1) Death: Need I explain?
2) Melancholy: Need I explain her severe depression?
3) Feminism: A subtle theme, in this poem the word daddy in itself is feminine. Also, she lived during the womens lib era. Her poetry challenged the female role.
4) Her childhood: she spent much of her childhood near the ocean. (Reference to the Atlantic)
As a reader, one makes unconscious associations as a way to grasp consepts. Sylvia Plath played of this mind tool by using metaphors.
The metaphor of Nazis brings us to an understanding of her personal pain and suppresion. She's not putting down Jewish people! It's just hard to lable one's feelings. It's like trying to describe the beauty of a sunset with words, or the experience of being in love. We need to make associations to understand the indescribable.
As a depressed person, it is easy to delve into her world. It is her gift of association, that allows this. I feel it is important to understand and appreciate this fact. As a poet she has been able to touch us. Isn't that the point of it! Poets put out poems knowing that each reader is going to have a different interpretation. This women had almost a decade of higher education. Every word was skillfully planned. It is our job as readers and responders to interpret them. No one is wrong! No one is right! It's all subjective!
Thursday, November 21, 2002
Marge, further to your comment dated 30th October 2000 I would like to say that yes while Plath's suffering is not easy for us to compare it with the suffering of the Jews in WWII, who are we to judge anothers suffering? Plath suffered from manic depression and when someone suffers from an illness (and it is a very real and serious illness) like depression it is difficult for them to feel any worse. Yes, if we are closed minded about this we can see Plath as selfish but one must understand the nature of her illness before they condemn her. Plath was a gifted poet and her death means that the world was robbed of a great talent too early.
Sunday, November 17, 2002
For my AP English class 2 years ago, we analyzed this poem. I see alot of people on here talked about the black shoe as a symbol of her suffocated and stuck, so to speak. However in my class, we came to the conclusion that the black shoe was an extension of the Holocaust/Nazi symbolism because Nazi's did wear combat boots, which would be the black shoe. I think Plath is comparing her father and her negative feelings towards him to Hitler and his regime, which in many people's eyes is one the ultimate symbols of evil and hatred. Also, I have noticed with myself, that almost every guy I date is mentally and/or emotionally abusive, and all my life I've struggled with emotional and mental abuse from my father. I have contemplated many times why I go through so many bad relationships, and with the knowledge I have of psychology, I've come to the conclusion that subconciously, I think that dating abusive men is what I deserve. I too am severly depressed and thus have low self esteem, and I think my relationships are a reflection of the inadequacey I feel about myself because of my depression and also because of the abuse I've survived. I think that Plath is trying to show this with the reference to Hughes. I think a lot of people are reading into this too much, I could be wrong, but sometimes you have to take things for face value.
Thursday, November 14, 2002
I believe that Sylvia Plath is stuck between seeing her father in the eyes of a child and the eyes of an adult. The way she writes using words such as "gobbledygoo" and "Achoo" makes references towards her life as a child. She is still a daughter who never grew out of the stage that all daughters go through, thinking their fathers are the closest thing to God their is. She is mad at her father for leaving (dying). She express her anger by comparing him to a Nazi, a vampire, a devil and a brute. This is evident in line 55 when she says "Not God but a swastika." She marry's a man who reminds her of her father, but after seven years the marriage fails. This poem has many underlying themes and is truly a work of art.
This poem is one of the ones I have had a difficult time decrypting. After reading on of the many biograhpies of Sylvia, I found out that her dad was rather cold, and old fashioned. He didn't play much with them, and her mother took them up stairs occasionally so that they couldn't 'bother' him. I think this is mostly about the frustration she felt for him for being so cold, and dying. Though I didn't like the Jewish and holocaust usage in this poem. Sylvia's obsession with the holocaust didn't capture the pain she felt over her father correctly in this poem, as so well captured in others. Though I thinks she means for her father to be like a Nazi, or so I think.
Tuesday, October 1, 2002
After reading the insights into Daddy I could not help but note the extreme over analysis portrayed by some. For example, the theory suggesting "black shoe" as a metaphor for "feeling trapped" may infact be an example of adding ones own interpretation to something which may, in essence be a great deal more simple. Coul dit not be the black shoe simply represents the initial discovery of her fathers diabetes as his foot turned black, later having his leg amputated? This was the begining of his death, ehich he refused to seek help in order to ensure survival. I think it is quite possible a daughter may possess feelings of hatred towards a father who may not have loved his daughter enough to want to survive for her! Theories such as the Electra Complex are far to over analytical in my opinion. Why can't an individual simply possess incredulous psychological trauma when a loved parent will not even return unconditional love by surviving for you?
Thursday, August 1, 2002
"There are a dozen or two" refers to the town where the father came from, it had a common name and the phrase comes after "My Polack friend Says", which makes this clear, I think.
I don't know where you get the thought her father was good - representing the good in people, I guess you made it up, it is not clear from the poem and the lines speak against that interpretation.
Tuesday, July 16, 2002
Since I have a Lit. final tomorrow morning (it's 2:35 a.m. now), I must be brief in expressing my disappointment at discovering that most of the critics seem egregiously off base. However, considering poetry's subjective nature, I will not worry too much about my disagreements. Mainly, I am abhorred to discover that most readers interpret Plath's conception of her father in the least positive light. It seems to me like she really hated the "bastard." He died as a result of not caring for his diabetes and she blamed him for deserting her at a young age. Furthermore, the importance of her soured relationship with Ted Hughes and the merging of this husband-character with that of her father is not adequately elaborated. Seven years refers to the time after he left her in the north UK. Listed explanations for such details as the black shoe and the rack and screw are laudable. The black shoe seems to be a metaphor to how her life is trapped in sorrow like a foot is ! trapped in a shoe. And, the rack and the screw refer to a medieval torture device. The association with Jewish persecution in this poem can be better understood by concomitant study of Lady Lazarus. Really, I could keep going for quite a while, but that would bring too much sorrow to my heart and take too much of my diminishing allotment of sleeping time.
Mississippi State Univ., USA
Thursday, May 2, 2002
I ask you not to condemn me for what I write, everyone has their own opinion and interpretations of things, this is mine. I apoligize for how long it is.I am going to look at this poem one stanza at a time, because it seems easier for me to show exactly where I am getting my interpretation.
1st. I feel the black shoe is her mind, her repressed feelings, and in the first stanza she is saying that she is sick of hiding them, and trying to ignore them. She is scared of how she will react to them. I think Plath had anxiety problems, because in her poems often it seems she is relating to issues she tried to ignore, I have anxiety problems, and often I ignore my feelings and problems, and try to forget about them, because I dont like the way I react, I am afraid I will have a panic attack. I think Plath may have been the same way, I think she used writing as an outlet to calm herself down, and pour her emotions into. Writing is after all one of the best ways to deal with ones issues. I feel this is expressed in the last line barely daring to breathe or achoo she was barely daring to think or deal with it or she would collapse mentally into severe depression.
2nd. She talks about how her father died, I think when she says she has had to kill him, she means that she had to try to forget her memories of him, because most of them were good, and it only leaves her sadden. You died before I had time leaves it to he died before she had any reason to hate him or be angry with him, or realize that he wasnt the perfect, good, honest person she made him out to be.
3rd. Im not positive exactly on how to interpret. I feel the freakish Atlantic may have to do with sleep, and death. This stanza has to do with how she attempted suicide before. She is saying in a way she was trying to get back to him, get back to the good. In this poem she often uses her father as a metaphor for good, the good in people, the good in life.
4th. She refers to the German language, which her father probably often spoke, the first line is referring to her fathers voice, what she knew of him, good things. Since there wasnt much she remembered about him, so she could often see him in others, which is where the common comes in.
5th. There are a dozen or two there are a dozen people that have reminded her of her father, that she thought were good and honest people, but mainly two, her father and her husband, the only person that she really felt was a good honest trustworthy person, the only one who hadnt hurt her. It is said that women tend to marry men that remind them of their father. She could never tell if they really were good like her father was.
6th. She says, I thought every German was you She kept thinking this person is good, like her father. She never thought they were going to hurt her, because she did not see the bad in them.
7th. She refers to how the Jews were sent to concentration camps in WW2, which reminds her of how she went from person to person she thought was good (like her father) She was looking for someone to idolize, to trust, to look up to, as she did her father, but she kept being disappointed by people.
8th. The snows of Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna this is how no one measured up, no one was completely trustworthy in her mind. She thought the person was trustworthy like her father but they werent, thus are not very pure or true I think how she keeps comparing herself to a Jew, she is seeing how she is good in ways, and bad in others, and maybe she brought on the bad things that happened to her, maybe she caused people to disappoint her.
9th. She is saying how highly she held her father, how she put him on this pedestal in her mind, and no one could measure up. She is realizing that he wasnt everything that she thought he was, he wasnt as perfect as she wanted him to be, just like everyone else. She is also comparing her father to her husband in this, the one person she completely trusted.
10th. Not God but a swastika the image she had of her father being God, and her husband, and untrustworthy people being swastika. And since her husband was, maybe her father was too, maybe everyone was the same, no one was completely trustworthy, everyne would disappoint her. The second line refers to how her mind was so set on the thought that there is someone out there who wont hurt me, who is good like my father was, that reality couldnt squeek through The second line I think may have to do with how women tend to marry men like their father, and since she thought her husband was like her father (good), and wasnt, it would also make her father a fascist or brute, thus everyone would be.
11th. Shes talking about her mental image of her father, how innocent she held him, and thus her husband as well. A cleft in your chin instead of your foot her perfect image instead of reality. She associates the word with foot quite often in this poem. But no less a devil for that, no not shes saying her father was like her husband and everyone else because he seemed so innocent, but she doesnt know for sure if he was or not. The black man is her husband, is bad, at the time she wrote this she obviously was very depressed, and thought very little of her husband.
12th. Shes saying how her husband broke her heart, and her spirit. She was ten when she first repressed her feelings about her father, and started the idea that there was someone out there who wouldnt hurt her, that people could be pure. At 20 she tried to die, to be with her father, since she couldnt find a trustworthy person. Her father at times also seems to be referred to as God, since he is suppose to be pure.
13th. They revived her, and made her supposedly better and left her, didnt make sure she was. She decided she would find someone like her father, someone to look up to, someone to hold on that pedestal, someone who was good. She thought she had found that person in her husband, who was in reality black Black often to her means bad, evil.
14th. Her husband seemed to love her, for who she was, her good and bad parts, the rack and screw. So she decided he was the one. She says in the last line, since he wasnt, shes through, shes done with it, with life. All she sees now in people is the bad the black telephone and the good cant get through. So now she has reversed what she sees in people, instead of seeing the good in people, all she sees now is bad, so she feels alone, and isolated.
15th. If Ive killed one man, Ive killed two Shes destroyed the image of her father, and a good person, shes destroyed the ability to see good in anyone. Her husband is the vampire, 7 years she thought he was good. Daddy, you can lie back now the thought that there are good people is gone now.
16th.Shes killed the ability to see good in anyone. Her mind (the villagers) always knew that there isnt a perfect person, a true, honest person. So now her mind is attacking the image of her father, because of what her husband did to her, and how he forced her to think that everyone is bad. Her mind always knew her husband was going to hurt her, the way her father did when he died. In the last line she is addressing both her father and her husband, both the good in people, and the bad, she has searched for, thus the word daddy twice. Shes saying again, shes done with everything, with everyone, with life.
The poem is about how she has come to realize that no one is perfect, and everyone was going to end up hurting her, and she didnt want to deal with the pain anymore, so she decided she was going to end it. The poem isnt really about her relationship with her father, he is more of just a metaphor for good, because that was what he was to her.
Friday, March 8, 2002
To fully comprehend the poem, Daddy, one must distance oneself enough to realize that Sylvia Plath is not the speaker in the poem. Though she was German, she was not part Jewish nor was her father a nazi. Plath is merely speaking through the narrator. Rather than right a poem about her strained relationship with her father and then with her husband, Plath disguises her story with that of a troubled young girl grown up to relive her father-daughter relationship with her husband.
A freudian analysis would say that the speaker was suffering from the Electra Complex. She saw her father as something of an idol and worshipped him to the point of wanting him sexually. Knowing this was wrong, she was trying to distance herself from him but was stopped by his death. Her guilt drove her to attempting suicide at age twenty before she could divorce her husband.
For Plath, the poem provided closure to the relationships with her husband and father.
Jamie Lynn Choina
New Orleans, LA, USA
Friday, February 22, 2002
I believe that Daddy is another one of Sylvia Plath's beautifully crafted poems, expressing her emotions to the greatest extent. When her father passed away at an early age, Plath bottled her feelings inside and vowed from then on never to speak to God again. 'Daddy', the title of the peom indirectly represents her father and God who in general is a father figure. She expresses her rage towards both in the poem, her father for deserting her and God for letting her down by allowing her father die. The poem is also conveys Sylvia Plath's anger towards her husband Ted Hughs in that he left her and in doing that, deprived their children of a permanent father.
Tuesday, February 19, 2002
I think the extensive posts here pretty much covered all the major themes in Daddy but I still have a couple of questions....
Leaving SP's own history behind. (thats legal you know)
1. Anyone else see sexual implications in the poem? "rack and screw" Double entendre perhaps? There are others I think. 2. What do you think about the repeated rhyme of "ooo?" Any musical implications? If anyone knows anything about music theory is the "ooo" a minor note. Elegy. Am I stretching?
Anyhow I agree that this poem is amazing in dealing with the frustrations of communication and the tools we use to communicate. I understand the odd anger that complete miscommunication can lead to. Growing up as a first generation American kid has had it's bumpy moments for me and my parental units, and I have had my share of hatemyparents binges. Sadly, my friends that speak the same language also share in these same frustrations. Daddy is universal in its understanding of the complexities of Parent/child relationships.
I look at the background of this page and I just want to say...SMILE DAMNIT!NIT!
San Pedro, USA
Wednesday, November 28, 2001
There is an intense level of self interest here, to the extent that this poem has been criticised for its (self-indulgence?) via the allegory of the holocaust.
I disagree. "Daddy" succeeds because of Plath's conviction; her belief that her father is both the end and the beginning of her existence.
It is unmistakingly Plath in its chill, almost brazen belief and strident rhyme and rythmn. Although the hatred and vehemance is confronting, it is never excessive and is executed with that simmering, resentful voice that Plath used so often.
"Daddy" is calculated, but is made that much better because Plath allows it to be visceral without being strained.
Wednesday, November 28, 2001
I find it bewildering, reading some of the above comments, that so much criticism has been levelled at Plath. We've been presented with the argument that using Holocaust imagery with which to express personal turmoil and grief, is 'inappropriate' and 'selfish.'
Surely we should remember the circumstances in which the poem was penned? I feel that Plath can be forgiven what some might see as bitter hyperbole; the speaker in 'Daddy' is clearly unbalanced, and struggling to reconcile herself to loss, grief, anger and loneliness. This was a woman trying to bring up two children alone, who arguably, could not cope with her husband, Ted Hughes's, affair with Assia Wevill. The loss of an unfaithful husband is paralleled with the loss of her father, her grief is perhaps the 'black shoe' that she has found herself trapped inside. There is palpable anger towards her father and her husband, both of whom she addresses as 'Daddy.'
Yes, the speaker may appear childlike and fantastical, but coupled with the voice of a confused child, is the voice of a perceptive adult. I've always felt that in 'Daddy,' Plath speaks as a woman who knows that she can longer cope, and is strangely calm about being "through." She skilfully binds together childhood, and what is for her, the end of life. Plath feels that she has come full circle; the loss of her father, her later attempt at suicide, "At twenty I tried to die... to get back, back, back to you," is now mirrored in the loss of her husband to Wevill, and Plath's impending suicide.
Surely it's not surprising that in this fragile emotional state, the delineation of father and lover, black and white, good and evil, would become extremely blurred. Maybe loss itself is the 'black man' who haunts her.
The use of colour is extremely evocative in 'Daddy.' Plath's depression, her all encompassing blackness, is clearly expressed, a white "foot" inside a "black shoe." Another example is her confusion regarding good and evil, saviour and damnation, "Not God but a swastika... So black no sky could squeak through."
Considering Plath's situation, her depression and grief, I feel that her choice of imagery is not only justified, but thoroughly appropriate. Perhaps in the final analysis, 'Daddy' is addressed to Hughes, the 'fascist,' 'vampire' and 'brute heart' whom she loves and hates herself for loving.
Belfast, N. Ireland
Monday, October 15, 2001
Thursday, September 20, 2001
I think that Plath is a great poet and 'Daddy' is evidence that she is. Some may choose to accentuate what seems to be the 'negative' aspect/s of this poem but I choose to accentuate the postive. The beauty of her poetry, including 'Daddy', lies not only in her experession but the poems strong connection with the struggle with life. Plath's use of Holocaust imagery has well been debated on, and I don't think that Plath intended for this poem to be taken literally as she, to A. Alvarez, referred to this poem as 'a bit of light verse'.
Plath is not insensitive to her use of such a horrific historic event. It's excusable due to art. She doesn't ridicule the Jews, but uses the experience as a whole only to make her feelings understandable to others. It is only due to such a metaphor that others may be able to understand that she felt much pain. A pain that no one can feel, but only speculate on. That is why a metaphor, such as the Holocaust references, has attracted a lot of controversy. People tend to ask themselves, 'Does any writer, does any human being other than an actual survivor, have the right to put on this death rig?'
I believe that no measure can be placed on human emotion and that is why the use of this metaphor is excusable. Regardless of the experiences and how others may view it, it is solely the impact on the individual that counts in art. Art brings people together to share an experience. This experience is unique and individual, but nonetheless has the same foundation of emotions, in this case; pain. Her poem is an art that builds a bridge letting people know that they are not alone.
Readers should have an open mind while reading Plath's poetry. In doing so they enter her world, one that falls apart, crumbles, the centre is not being held together. The emotions portrayed within this poem are so raw, yet so tenacious, so enduring. Beautiful.
Diane E Santos
Tuesday, August 21, 2001
"Daddy" is a confessional piece written by Plath three months before her death. In this poem Plath puts to rest her harboured animosity and resentment towards her father. These feelings have haunted Plath throughout her life after the death of her father when she was only ten.
Through the use of exaggerated Holocaust imagery Plath compares her father to a German Nazi, who has taken over her world. Plath harbours feelings of resentment towards her father for leaving her when she was so young. The fifth stanza outlines the little that Plath knew about her father as a result of his death.
My Polack friend
Says there is a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
It is quite obvious that Plath longed to be able to share her father's company and learn all about who he was. The ninth stanza describes how Plath's father has taken over her life, he was her obsession, something she could never discard.
Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through
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.
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.
These two stanzas retell the story of her life. Her father died, at twenty she tried to commit suicide by over dosing on sleeping pills and 'they', her doctors stuck her together again. But they only used glue, would Plath be able to hold it together? And then Plath knew what to do she found someone who was exactly like her father someone to fill in the gaps.... Ted Hughes!! Plath says that she is finally through she has pulled the cord of the telephone so she won't have to hear the voices. She has killed one man she can kill two. This is her reference to her separation from Hughes. She claims he had sucked her life dry and so too was her father's memory. But does Plath finally cut herself off from her father or was her suicide her way of getting back to him??
Thursday, August 16, 2001
Many believe that yes, she was a victim of circumstance because of the particular type of men that she attracted/came in contact with, and of course, the early death of her father. Some believe that the lack of male influence is what led her to hold a "grudge" against any male she happened to come into contact with. Obviously, her views regarding men were very different from those of the women around her, which could possibly be due to the events in her life that led her to possess negative connotations towards men.
However, some believe that Plath's opposition and general hatred towards men comes not from circumstance, but rather male dominance. The popular opinion on this side of the spectrum is that Plath was able to see clearly the reality of male dominance in the society that she lived in and was one of the few women calling out against it.
The question remains: did Plath's derogatory experiences with men cloud her visions and insight on male dominance in the world she lived in? Maybe. Regardless of whether or not Plath's views on the roles of men in that time were acurate, she certainly had past experiences that could have marred any credibility she might have once given the male race.
Tuesday, June 19, 2001
Stewart Clarke brought up the actual sound of this poem, comparing it to "The Bed Book". The impression that I got, and I've heard this before as well, is that the poem sounds like a locomotive engine, getting faster and more intense verse by verse, bringing our narrator to her concentration camp...the camp, to me, being life without daddy. Her father's death being something so sudden and unwanted as to be on par with being thrown on a train and sent to starve and die in a foreign place.
I also think that any feminist views interpreted in Daddy are fabricated by the reader. The narrator is a victim, yes, but not of male domination...rather, she is a victim of circumstance. And her way of dealing with this is to blame it all on her "abandonment" from Daddy.
Is this rational? Of course not. And I think that's what this poem is all about. The narrator is still a child...she was unable to ever truly grow up ("Daddy, I have had to kill you. You died before I had time--"), to break that emotional bond with her father. Electra complex, if you will. Daddy's untimely death spoiled the scheme of things, and the narrator finally comes to terms with herself and escapes the "black shoe" of this bond by focusing her negativities on the mythical "bag full of God" that is daddy.
This is the first poem I have ever appreciated and, therefore, the first poem I have ever attempted to analyze. Feedback is both welcomed and encouraged.
Las Vegas, NV, USA
Friday, May 4, 2001
Monday, April 30, 2001
Saturday, April 14, 2001
Wednesday, April 11, 2001
Sunday, April 8, 2001
Friday, March 30, 2001
Phoenix, AZ, USA
Wednesday, March 28, 2001
Monday, March 26, 2001
Friday, March 9, 2001
Thursday, February 22, 2001
Juneau, Alaska, USA
Thursday, February 22, 2001
State College, PA, USA
Wednesday, February 21, 2001
February 19, 2001
Friday, February 9, 2001
Ann Arbor, USA
Tuesday, January 30, 2001
Bishops Stortford, England
Thursday, December 14, 2000
This is one of the most highly anthologized poems of Plath's (along with "Lady Lazarus"). It is a notorious poem, the one once compared to "Guernica" by George Steiner. The imagery and audaciousness of it still shock, so much so that I don't even know if it is being taught or anthologized or taught any more; it is almost as if the critical world has had its say on it and has moved on, either to other poems in Ariel, or to other books altogether, such as The Colossus or Crossing The Water. It has become a modern classic, of a kind, the sort some people (not the ones here, of course!) sigh & look back on fondly, as what/who they read when they were younger, or were obliged to read at some point, dutifully used it in an essay, then put back on the shelf when they were done with the course...
"Daddy" is a mean poem, brutal, but at bottom it is about mourning, loss, and what happens when that grief is blocked. I have always taken this as the real topic, that longing to forgive her father, forgive herself, to understand and accept - that was locked, denied, as a part of her childhood, adolescence, until she was 21 and visited (I am taking her literally) her father's grave for the first time. (This poem's essence lies in her not believing her father is dead, and since she never went to his funeral, or even visited his grave as a child, the father is in a strange limbo, a zombie figure.) In 1959 she visited her father's grave and was tempted, oddly as she says, to dig him up & prove to herself that he's really dead.
In the poem, she just wants to be with her father (in the reading, her voice definitely becomes emotional when she remembers her childhood with him), or someone like him, but this never works out; in the end, she turns against him, but, as Stewart says, she can never be "through" - I think, because that sadness is again pushed aside, "the voices" (her father, husband, mother?) who still might be able to talk and listen to her are gone. Her father is still there, just as solid & historical as he was in "The Colossus", and just as misunderstood/inflated (two ways blocked grief seems to work).
From this poem (and a few others) the feminist movement of the 60s took Plath as one of their own; but Plath doesn't seem to have any support here - the villagers are anonymous, a mob, who don't seem to know her. They are trusted by her because they aren't trying to talk to her, question her, they don't have a voice, they just instinctively act against "daddy" (like a swarm of bees, come to think of it). Plath turns against herself in the last line, in a line that shows a disgust with him, and herself - an attempt to not just block but eliminate any communication or feelings altogether. In the few days after writing "Daddy", Plath wrote the equivalent about her mother, "Medusa" - which ends with an equally destructive and ambivalent line, "There is nothing between us."
Wednesday, November 29, 2000
I agree that in addition to the anger and violence, 'Daddy' is also pervaded by a strong sense of loss and trauma. The repeated 'You do not do' of the first sentence suggests a speaker that is still battling a truth she only recently has been forced to accept. After all, this is the same persona who in an earlier poem spends her hours attempting to reconstruct the broken pieces of her 'colossus' father. After 30 years of labor she admits to being 'none the wiser' and 'married to shadow', but she remains faithful to her calling. With 'Daddy' not only is the futility of her former efforts acknowledged, but the conditions that forced them upon her are manically denounced. At the same time, and this seems to fire her fury, she admits to her own willing self-deception. The father whom she previously related to the 'Oresteia' and the 'Roman Forum' is now revealed as a panzer man with a Meinkampf look. But she doesn't simply stop at her own complicity. 'Every woman,' she announces 'loves a Fascist/The boot in the face, the brute/Brute heart of a brute like you.' There is obviously a lot of autobiography in the poem, but it deals with more than her bitter feelings towards her father and husband. The historic and allogorical references display a deep resentment towards male power in general; at least when this power is used for the purposes of oppression and destruction. Was Plath a proto-'feminist'? All we know is that her lifetime extended over a period of particular brutality; most noticably the Holocsust, but also the real and threatened violence (nuclear warfare, the Rosenburgs),of the 1950's cold war. Reference is often made to the renewed and heightened awareness to the Holocaust in the early 1960's. But by that time, Plath was in her late 20's. She was a much more impressionable twelve-year-old when the first images of Holocaust victims, in mass graves and standing lifeless behind barbed wire, were beamed across newreels and magazines; images which in all probability she saw, as shown in the poem The Thin People. Plath's confused identification with Jews most likely dated from that time.
In fact, the triumphant tone at the end of the poem is undercut by the unsettled question of identity. The use of nursery-rhyme speech seems to reflect the persona's uncertainty of an adult identification. At the end of the poem, it's the villagers dancing and stamping, without mention of the speaker. This regression to child-speak is very telling. It is symbolically the language used when her father was still alive. After writing 'Daddy', Plath spoke of these childhood years as 'beautiful, inacessible, obsolete, a fine, white flying myth', but also sealed off like 'a ship in a bottle.' In her mind, the identity of these years ended with the actual death of her father; and this loss is relived once again in the symbolic death that occurs in the poem: 'Daddy, I have had to kill you./You died before I had time---.' Whatever revenge she achieved, it was paid for at a high price.
New York City, USA
Tuesday, November 7, 2000
The speaker of "Daddy" might be seen as our collective inner child, the voice of a world that has "fallen a long way." There is an implied gain in the poem -- of catharsis, liberation -- but "Daddy" is fundamentally a poem about loss. The speaker has finally and irrevocably disabused herself of the notion of a "recovered" childhood, the dream of "the waters off beautiful Nauset." There is no going "back, back, back" to some illusory idyllic existence, no way to make whole that "pretty red heart": the first oppressor in this poem is the unrealized past ("You died before I had time--"). The poem exemplifies this in its form, the nursery-rhyme sound, the ooh, ooh, ooh of the end rhymes, so jarring in contrast with its substance, its images of stark brutality. Childhood and innocence are corrupted herein by the inescapable internalization of "wars, wars, wars." Conventional images have undergone a desecration: "Not God but a swastika"; not father but devil; not husband but vampire. Language, rather than a means of connection, has become an obstacle, confining the self ("The tongue stuck in my jaw. / It stuck in a barb wire snare. Ich, ich, ich, ich . . . ")
Language, as a conveyor of images, is itself the subject of this poem -- the "foot" in line three is as much metrical as it is metaphorical, one could argue. Plath's "Colossus," her apprenticeship in the Western poetic tradition, with this poem is junked in the "freakish Atlantic," just another thrown off oppressor. The language of this world has conveyed the speaker to a place of horrors: "obscene," it is "An engine, an engine / Chuffing me off like a Jew. / A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen." In this sense, Plath's appropriation of Holocaust imagery, much castigated, must be seen as subsequent to that imagery's appropriation of her -- and, by extension, of us all. Plath demonstrates in this poem that the horrors of history are fundamentally personal, that human history is simply personal! history writ large, that the brutalities of the age inform every childhood, that the notion of innocence is a sham, a game of cowboys and Indians, to use a less highly charged analogy, against a backdrop of the Trail of Tears. Where language is "obscene," renunciation (silence) is the only alternative ("the black telephone's off at the root, / The voices just can't worm through"). And the poem does choose silence, in the end, as the oppressed become the oppressors, the speaker is displaced by "the villagers" ("They are dancing and stamping on you"), and the cycle is repeated. The speaker, however, is "through" with this old pattern. What is reached is a dark terminus, no doubt -- but also the Plathian "stasis in darkness" from which a new "child's cry" might rise.
Newport, RI, USA
Tuesday, October 31, 2000
I think that the childish/selfish tone of the poem is part of what makes it work. SP was a child when WWII occured and obviously the spector of the concentration camps stuck with her (see "The Thin People", among others). So all the images here are childhood ones for her. I find it very artfully compiled...how she used autobiography with huge, horriffic events to convey how she herself felt. As for people who say that she 'has no right' etc. to use these images because she has no personal experience of them, etc. i find this logic wrong...what is metaphor, anyway? Are there some metaphors too sacrosanct to be used by writers?
San Jose, CA, USA
Tuesday, October 31, 2000
Amazing example of "woman's rage."
Parts of this poem are beautifully realized, sonically
"And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset."
(Note the homage to her beloved Dylan Thomas and his
_Under Milk Wood_ in L2 above.)
Below she describes her frustration at being unable to communicate with the emotionally unavailable men -- her husband and her father -- to whom she gave away so much of her power; on whose love she placed too high a value:
"I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare."
"Daddy" is a cautionary tale.
San Francisco, USA
Tuesday, October 31, 2000
I find Plath's poem "Daddy" to be a bitter and selfish poem. To compare a handful of years spent with your father to the absolutely incredible amount of suffering that prisoners in concentration camps had to endure is arrogant and completely inaccurate. This superfluously embellished analogy between her father and a Nazi soldier is the hyberbolic ranting of an immature adolescent. I am dismayed that she only made passive attempts at suicide, and even then it took her three times to get it right.
North Sydney, USA
Monday, October 30, 2000
This poem is so emotional and so sad. She is grieving for her father, but she is so bitter. It is interesting that she uses the World War II comparisons and elaborates about the Jews. I thought this poem was great because she expresses emotion, even though it is so depressing.
Sunday, October 29, 2000
I love this poem...It's so emotional and beautiful in a sadly depressing way....This is the poem that got me writing....Sylvia Plath is my favorite poet and the only one I would actually go to the library to cheak out a book of her poety....(I'm 13 in case you were wondering) .....Sylvia Plath is the best poet..... And "Daddy" is the best poem..............
El Paso, USA
Sunday, October 15, 2000
Yes, reams can be and have been written about this iconic poem, which I think every emotional post-adolescent lit major has rewritten and re-imagined ad naseum since it first appeared in print. Its power to threaten, shock and move us is undiminished. To the unsuspecting reader, I suspect the experience of first reading "Daddy" is a confusion of discomfort, excitement and guilty pleasure, for the pleasures of revenge are said to be sweet, and this is a revenge poem of the first rank. Revenge upon whom? Father? Perhaps the wild fantasy of a father, anyway. More accurately, upon her husband. And her aim was true, for if anything Plath wrote damaged Ted Hughes for posterity, "Daddy" is it. From this poem, we gather our indelible impressions of Hughes as a brute, a wife beater, a vampire, even an implied racist and murderer (if we extend the Hitler metaphor to its fullest implications) . . . on and on.
The controversial Holocaust imagery can be directly linked to the period in which the poem was written. In 1961, the entire world was riveted by the Jerusalem trial of Nazi SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolph Eichmann (who was executed in 1962, a few months before "Daddy" was written). This was the first televised trial in history, and for most it was the first they had heard of Hitlers "Final Solution." The anguished testimonies of camp survivors and the horrifying details that emerged about the cold bureaucratic extermination of six million European Jews caused a frenzy of reaction it literally rocked the moral fiber of the world, and were still reeling (if more jaded). It was a subject on fire in the public imagination at the time. Plaths appropriation of Holocaust imagery for her own ends, which strikes so many as grossly inappropriate, can perhaps be interpreted as stemming from that initial horrified zeitgeist. Perhaps she felt she was raising consciousness and expressing solidarity of a sort. Her remarks in her interview with Peter Orr about making her poetry "relevant" can be looked at from such an angle.
Of course, the other point of view is that she was stealing other peoples real tragedy and tacking it on to her own little psychic turbulence for shock value and good visceral punch to the readers gut. I think we must always keep in mind that Plath, to A. Alvarez, referred to this poem (and "Lady Lazarus", a piece even more riddled with Holocaust imagery) as "a bit of light verse." Was she being sarcastic? Reading Alvarezs memoir, I think he felt she was quite serious. So what on earth does that tell us about this poet? I do think it implies a profound self-absorption and narcissism. "Chuffing me off like a Jew" -- the callousness of this poem, if one stops to think about it (and its very hard to do so while in the poems grip), is appalling. Its ramifications are endless where Plath is concerned.
As a socially "relevant" poem, "Daddy" is a failure. As a piece of literary voodoo, it is a resounding success. Is there any other poem in existence that consistently delivers the sensation of an active, malevolent hatred leaping off the page and grabbing the reader by the throat? Revenge, exorcism, voodoo, a hex . . . these are the words that come to my mind when reading "Daddy." Even the rhyme scheme, which many compare to a childrens nursery rhyme (and indeed Plaths own "The Bed Book" seems to echo that oo oo oo effect throughout), suggests much more strongly a witchs charm straight out of "Macbeth."
Extremism, hysteria, narcissism . . . perhaps. But this poem is seared into our literature, our culture, like a red hot brand. It will not go away. It will never be "through."
Friday, October 6, 2000
"Daddy" is probably Plaths most famous poem. The critic George Steiner has said that, "It is a poem by which future generations will seek to know us." He has also called it, "the Guernica of modern poetry." The violence of its imagery and tone, the references to concentration camps, torture and fascism certainly evoke Picassos most celebrated painting.
Plath claimed that in this poem she was adopting the persona of a girl with an Electra complex whose father had been a fascist, but while the poem is not completely autobiographical, it contains several obvious references to her own life. For example, here she refers to the picture of her father:
"You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you"
This is a direct image of the actual photograph the Plaths possessed of Otto in front of his blackboard at the University. Similarly, the "man in black with a Meinkampf look" and the "vampire" who "drank my blood" for "seven years" is a reference to her perception of Hughes to whom she had been married for seven years when this poem was written.
But the poem is not completely autobiographical. Otto Plath had no connection whatsoever with Nazism, so the poet is moving between her own and the personas fictional life throughout the poem. This movement between her actual life and her characters life creates, I feel, some of the problems the poem presents the reader with, which others may wish to discuss further. Some people might believe that it is wrong to appropriate the sufferings of the Jews during the Holocaust as an image for a relatively privileged, Gentile womans private, emotional suffering. Another issue is whether this is a love or a hate poem? It contains elements of both. A further difficulty is the apparent celebration of female masochism contained in the line:
"Every woman adores a fascist."
I find it interesting to compare this poem with "Colossus", an earlier poem written on her father and to relate some aspects of the poem to the legends/mythology of the Great Goddess.
In "Colossus" the dead father was tended as an idol but in "Daddy" he is metaphorically killed. Plath no longer seems possessed by the desperate need for security and protection which permeated the earlier poem. A comparison of the poems endings illustrate this point. "Colossus" ends on a note of empty despair, and we have the sense of the persona standing bereft and helpless before the memory of the dead:
"My hours are married to a shadow
No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel
On the blank stones of the landing."
In "Daddy" however, we have the sense of the persona in a triumphant, almost exalted state. This is reflected in the language which is no longer the traditional, restrained, poetic diction of the earlier poem but unstrained, slangy and free:
"Daddy, daddy, you bastard, Im through."
In "Colossus" Plath remains in the classic, passive role of the female who mourns the dying god and sacrifices to the idol. She is still prostrating herself on the altar of masculinity and performing a traditional, feminine role.
In "Daddy", she breaks completely free from the victim position and from the power and influence of men. She appreciates what a victim she has been by referring to herself as a Jew, but transcends this by ceremonially killing her father and husband. This killing is not just an individual one, but is part of a ritual joined in by the whole community:
" Theres a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you."
The sacrificial victims of ancient, Goddess worshipping cultures were invariably male. Males were considered to be more expendable than women who were more necessary for reproduction. The killing of the father and husband in "Daddy" can be seen as symbolic of this ancient rite and as Judith Kroll in "Chapters in a Mythology: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath" points out:
"Whenever exorcism, or attempted exorcism, of her father or his proxy occurs it is always as a preliminary to a rebirth which also entails the expulsion of her false self."
This same "false self" could be the one who earlier in the poem claims that all women are innately masochistic. One could write for a long time on "Daddy" - this is just to get us going!
Hebden Bridge, UK
Monday, September 25, 2000
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This forum is administered by Elaine Connell, author of Sylvia Plath: Killing The Angel In The House who lives in Hebden Bridge, near where Sylvia Plath is buried and where Ted Hughes was born. Web Design by Pennine Pens. This forum is moderated - contributions which are inappropriate, anonymous or likely to offend may be edited or omitted.