Commentary – Daddy : Mukti

“Daddy” is a poem written by American poet Sylvia Plath in 1962. Her father, Otto Plath died of undiagnosed diabetes when she was eight. The death of her father is thought to have been an emotionally traumatic event for Sylvia, leading to at least some of her later emotional problems, which would affect her for the rest of her life. She was having an unhappy married life with fellow poet Ted Hughes. They separated in 1962. She attempted suicide thrice, but failed. The fourth time she tried, soon after writing “Daddy”, she was successful. “Daddy” was published after her death, by Ted Hughes.

This poem expresses the anger and resentment of Sylvia Plath towards her brute father, and to some extent her husband. Plath also relates this poem with the Holocaust. She creates a figurative image of her father, using many different metaphors to describe her relationship with him.

The poem starts with the speaker describing how she has lived for thirty years like a foot. “You do not do, you do not do Any more black shoe” shows that she is no longer going to bare the pain, which she has for so long. The speaker uses the second person throughout the poem, “you” which is her father. All the words and phrases are for him.

In the second paragraph, she fairly describes her father’s attire. “Marble-heavy” explains how stiff he was. “a bag full of god” refers to the  thick skin around his body. Paragraphs 3 and 4 clearly show the reader the way her father looked and helps us to create a rough image of him in our minds.

In lines 9-13 mentions the word “statue” which means that she also is referring to an image of her dead father in her head. She describes the Atlantic as “freakish” but at the same time it sounds pretty as the “Nauset” she refers to is a beautiful area on the shore of Massachusetts.

“I used to pray to recover you”. This could probably mean that she wants her father back or that she wants him to get rid of his illness. But the catch in this line is “used to”. Hence, it concludes that she does not want him back “now”. She is talking about the past. The next line says, “Ach du”. This is  German for “Oh, you”. Her father was a German immigrant, which is why she uses this language. Though, it is difficult to understand if this is an angry sigh or a sad sigh.

Plath also talks about the German tongue scraped flat by the roller of wars, wars, wars. The repetition of the word “wars” indicates that this place has been flattened by more than one war. “I never could talk to you The tongue stuck in my jaw”. Here she is saying that she could not talk to her father because her tongue was stuck! She could not speak. She says that it is stuck in a barb wire snare, which is harmful. Barb wire is something that hurts your tongue terribly. “Ich ich ich ich, I could hardly speak”. Ich in German means “I”. These lines explains that she was not able to speak to her father maybe because she did not know how to speak German or maybe because she was scared of him.

Plath relates every German to her father. She thinks every German his her father. She found his language dirty and offensive which disturbs her. The speaker uses a lot of metaphors to describe herself like, “chuffing”, “engine” etc. Such words give a different impact on the reader’s mind. Plath also started calling herself a Jew in few stanzas. Probably she thought her father was a Jew but in reality he wasn’t, and nor was she. She seems to be so terrified by the German language that it feels like it is a train taking her to a horrible, mass death. Relating her father to Jewish people is quite a vivid metaphor.

In one stanza Plath clearly mentions, “I have always been scared of you, With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo”. Here she is describing her father’s German characteristics. “Luftwaffe” is the German word for the air force of World War 2. And “gobbledygoo” does not mean anything. It just indicates that she does not understand the language and hence is using a random word to describe it.

“Panzer-man, panzer-man, O you”  Panzer-man refers to German tank drivers which again makes the image of her father scary and bad. Plath shows her father to be so black that even the sky couldn’t squeak through. Also, she refers to a Swastika and not god. It indicates the Nazi symbol, and hence a sign of evil.

The speaker calls her father a Fascist, an extreme authoritarian type of government that we associate with cruel dictators. And then, she calls him a brute. So she associates her father with a fascist, and with their brutality. But at the same time she says that every woman adores a fascist. This leaves the reader confused. Later, she again describes her father’s attire in a pictures she has.

“Any less than the black man who Bit my pretty red heart in two”. This makes the father no less than a devil. “Black man: doesn’t indicate his skin colour, but a man who is totally dark and evil. She has used adjectives in contrast to describe her black, evil father and her pretty, red heart.

She tells us that her father dies when she was ten but she tried to get back to him. The repetition of the word “back” thrice shows that she attempted suicide more than once to get to him. In spite of trying so much she did not succeed. “But they pulled me out of the sack, And they stuck me together with glue” explains that there was something or someone that always stopped her from dying.

“I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look”. Mein Kampf means “My Struggle” in German and is also a book written by Hitler. Hence she is again relating the model to an evil dictator, like Hitler. This model is probably just a substitute for her father.

Then she says that she is finally through. She is through with her father physically but he still does exist in her memories. Though there is no way to communicate as “The black telephone’s off at the root”. In a stanza at the end she says that if she has killed one man, she has killed two. One being her father, and the other one being his model. Though she hasn’t actually killed them. It is just in her mind.

After all the evilness of her father, she relates everything to her husband too, who she thinks is the same as her dad. And finally she concludes saying, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through”. The word “bastard” explains it all. After all the names she gave him; devil, vampire, Jew, Nazi, she completes it with just one verbal punch. She finishes it all by saying that she has finally got over with her father and his evilness. He is no longer a concern for her.

Therefore, this poem is a great compilation of metaphors and other adjectives used to describe a daughter’s relationship with her father. It continuously holds the reader’s attention and hence, is effective enough.

 

Word count: 1235

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