‘Daddy’ by Sylvia Plath is a poem written by her addressing her issues with her father, the extent of her father fixation and how she attempted to overcome it. The poem is categorized under confessional poetry, where the poet or poetess, takes their deepest secrets and pens it down into a poem. Sylvia Plath’s father, Otto Plath died on November 5th, 1940; a week and a half after Plath’s eight birthday. She never really got over his death, never really got over the father fixation. Plath’s husband cheated on her, she miscarried, was suicidal and suffered from depression. So confessional poetry could perhaps be considered her forte.
The entire poem is spent talking about how Plath feels about her father’s death and her opinion of her father. Her father fixation leads to conflicting feelings, she dislikes her father, but she also can’t get over him. Even after he left the world, he seems to be present in everything and everyone, haunting Plath forever. He is on her mind, in her poetry, her husband; he seems to be a big factor in Plath’s life.
‘Daddy’, the title in itself suggests that Plath knows that she’s throwing a rather childish tantrum, holding onto her father and not letting go of their issues. Plath tells us how she feels so confined and entrapped living with her father. She uses the reference of the nursery rhyme of the lady who lived in a shoe and describes her feelings to be similar. Plath speaks of how her father died before she had time to resolve any issues with him. She describes her father as a towering image next to which she feels very little. She refers to him as a ghastly statue with one gray toe because her father’s illness began with a gray toe, which further led to his foot being amputated. Calling him a ghastly statue with his head in the Atlantic, she describes him as a huge figure. She says she used to pray to recover him, but the words ‘used to’ help us understand that she doesn’t pray for him anymore. The use of the German words ‘Ach du’ are perhaps because Plath’s father was a German immigrant, so when she prayed, she paid her respects by using his language.
Plath refers to the German tongue spoken in a Polish town which has been destroyed by war. The multiple use of wars perhaps leads us to believe that the town was destroyed by more than just one war. Plath wonders where her father immigrated from and in the poem she says she never knew where he put his roots. Plath’s Polish friend, with whom she is close enough to address as a Polack, says that ‘there are a dozen or two’ which means that there are many towns with the same name. So Plath may never know where her father originally immigrated from. So afraid was Plath of her father that she says she could never talk to him. Every time she tried, her tongue would be stuck, disallowing her to speak. Ich means ‘I’ in German. The use of ich four times shows that Plath would stammer and be very nervous of talking to her father. Her father was such an intimidating figure that she began to find even the German language obscene and every German man was her father in her mind. The use of the word ‘an engine’ is perhaps a metaphor for the German language and here we see the use of onomatopoeia where the sound of the train has been put into words by using ‘chuffing.’ Plath feels like a Jew who is being shipped off to concentration camps in Dachau, Auschwitz and Belsen by train just as they did during the Holocaust. So opposed is Plath to the German language that she begins to talk like a Jew and even starts to feel like a Jew. Plath describes her fear of her father by using a metaphor. She refers to the Jew’s fear of the Germans and says that is how afraid she was of her father. Plath seems to believe that she has a bit of gipsy ancestress in her, so one of her female ancestors was perhaps a gipsy. With her weird like and her pack of Tarot cards, she says she feels like a Jew.
Plath moves on from her victimization and again begins to speak of her father. She says she’s always been scared of her father, because of his very German qualities like his neat mustache and his Aryan eye, a symbol of perfection perhaps. Fascism is an extreme authoritarian type of government that we associate with cruel dictators. According to Plath, every woman adores a fascist, a brute man. All women seem to fall in love with men who are cruel. The reader might perceive this as a sort of plea to all women to stop letting men dominate them. In the picture Plath has of her father, she says he has a cleft in his chin instead of his foot. This might baffle the reader, but then we realize that Plath is comparing her father to the devil who has a cleft in his foot. She says that even though the cleft is in his chin, he is still a devil that broke her heart. Plath’s father was buried when Plath was around the age of ten. So obsessed she was that at the age of twenty, she attempted to commit suicide believing that death was the only way to be with her father.. The repetition of the word ‘back’ in the line And get back, back, back to you which shows how distressed she was. She wanted to be with her father so bad that she was ready to even be buried next to him so that the skeletons would be close together. Unfortunately, she was saved and brought back before she died. Once that happened, Plath says she had another idea. Like many others with fixations, she found a surrogate for her father in a groom. She found a fascist and said her wedding vows which forever tied her to the surrogate father. She fulfilled her Electra complex through this, marrying the model of her father.
Plath eventually refers to her own husband as a vampire. She believes she’s killed her father, and also her husband who she believes drained her for seven years. Here she first says he sucked the life out of her for a year, but then changes it to seven, which was the duration of Plath and Hughes’ marriage in real life. ‘Seven years, if you want to know.’ Seems to be a jab at the father, like she’s telling him but she knows he’s disinterested. Despite all the hatred she eventually addressed her father very sweetly as Daddy and tells him that he can lie back now, which is odd considering her animosity towards the man. The reader then learns the she isn’t asking him to relax, but asking him to lie back because he’s been killed by driving a stake through his heart. Despite the title of the poem being ‘Daddy’, Plath has only used the word 4 times in the entire poem not counting the last line. Plath ends the poem by using the word Daddy twice to get her point across and calls him a bastard. She has said she was through with him before as well, but it seems much more concrete now. It’s like those feelings for her father that died prematurely are finally being dispelled. Throughout the poem she referred to him as much more horrid things such as a Nazi, a vampire, but in the end, Plath ends the poem summing her father up to a single word: Bastard.
Daddy by Plath was written only a few months before her suicide so we can see that although the reader would believe that she has overcome her issues, which is not the case. The miscarriage, the affair, the daddy issues, it was all far too much for Plath. Her confessional poems are as believed by many, unheard pleas for help. These unaddressed pleas eventually paved the way to Plath’s suicide. So while one would believe that Plath has dispelled her unresolved feelings and let go, that was not the case. She never recovered from it.
So we see that Daddy is one of Sylvia Plath’s most confessional poems where she addressed the issues she had with her father, and eventually solved them. Perhaps penning down feelings really does help, which is why Sylvia Plath penned down all the animosity and hate she felt for her father. She never grew out of her father fixation which eventually led to her own downfall.