“Daddy” is a confessional and a highly emotional poem written by American poet Sylvia Plath. It was written on October 12, 1962 shortly before her death. With the vivid use of imagery, Plath creates a figurative image of her father,Otto Plath, using various metaphors to describe her relationship with him. Otto Plath died when Sylvia was eight years old due to an advanced case of diabetes and having his leg amputated. The death of her father is said to have been an emotionally traumatic event for Sylvia which led to some of her later emotional problems.
This poem mainly deals with Plath’s deep attachment to the memory of her father and the despondency it caused in her life. This poem can also be seen as an avenue/outlet for Plath to deal with Otto’s death or her husband’s, Ted Hughes, betrayal.
Plath does this through reinvention of the relationship as one between a Nazi and a Jew.She dramatizes war in her soul by picturing herself as a Jew and her father as a Nazi.
In the first stanza, the reference to black shoe where she has “lived like a foot” suggest her submissiveness and entrapment.
“Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one grey toe
And a head in the freakish Atlantic” – In these three lines, her father is portrayed differently. He is illustrated as a massive fallen statue who Plath has spent her life trying to reassemble and restore.
Furthermore, in the following next three stanzas the ‘size’ comes in picture as to how small Plath sees herself in front of her father; he has a towering presence plus the very amount of empowerment her father has on her which makes her feel small in front of him. Plath showcases her unhealthy relationship with the memory of her father by stating “Daddy, I have had to kill you.”
Looking at the lines 16-18 we get to know more about Germany. Plath talks about the German language but in a Polish town that has been destroys by war. The repetition of the word “wars” thrice, gives us the idea that the town has been flattened by more than one war. Lines 19-23 says that because there are many towns with the same name, Plath will never be bale to know where her father “you”, has “put” his foot “root”. It means that she is wondering where he immigrated from but will never be able to tell. In the same stanza lines 24-28, Plath illustrates her tongue getting stuck in German. She repeats “Ich” which is the German word for “I”. This suggests that her tongue seems to get stuck in such a situation that she can only stammers “I, I, I, I.” The very reason that comes in mind as to why her tongue stick is because maybe she was nervous or scared of her father. But, later in lines 29-30, it demonstrates that maybe her tongue got stuck while speaking German; She seems to get nervous speaking the language of her father(she found his language dirty, obscene and offensive) to Germans who all seemed like her father. Plath here tells us that for her every German was her father. And she sees him in every German she comes across unfortunately with a negative association.
“An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.”
Plath uses the engine metaphor saying that the language like a train is ‘chuffing’ her off like a Jew. The implication of being taken by train like a Jew is that during the Holocaust the Germans took Jews to concentration camps by trains. Plath here also lists some World War ll concentration camps saying that its like she’s being taken to Dachau, Auschwitz and Belsen.
“I began to talk like a jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.”
Here, Plath seems to be opposed to the German language that she begins to talk like a Jew (Yiddish) and she even thinks that may be is a jew. The lines explain that Plath associates the fear and terror of her father with the struggle of the Jewish people against the Germans.
In stanza 9, the language of poem begins to exclude baby talk and to develop more exclusively the vocabulary of the venom. It signals a change in her method of dealing with the image of her father. Plath accentuates linguistically her reliving her childhood by using works such as “achoo” and “gobbledygoo.”
The “neat mustache” and blue “Aryan eye” describe the physical characteristics of her father which makes him look very German. The mustache aligns her father with Hitler (his famous toothbrush shaped mustache) and “Aryan” being a term referred to Hitler’s perfect race of blond and blue-eyes people who were shown as a superior to Jews. Hence, Plath’s father is like the image of an atrocious perfection with Hitler’s mustache and the blue-eyes.
Next in line 48-50, Plath talks about how every woman loves fascist men. Earlier, Hitler and nazis were fascists. She describes the things women love about Fascist men. Plath then connects the booth in the face with ‘brute’ hearts of ‘brute’ men like her father. The use of repetition and rhyme intensifies the claim of her father being a cruel fascist. If looked at it in another way, her father was dominating and cruel but she still loved him; and she misses her father overpowering/dominating her. Her father has been reenvisioned in terms of sexual dominance, cruelty and authoritarianism.
An interesting fact comes in picture where it says clear-cut that her father was a professor. This is evident in the lines 51-52 : “You stand at the blackboard daddy, In the picture I have of you.”
Lines 53-56 portrays an idea that just as the cleft is in the wrong place didn’t make her father any less a devil, it didn’t make him any less the cruel man who bit her heart in two- “bit my heart in two” can be a vivid way to say that he broke her heart in two pieces. Plath’s resemblance to her father being ‘black’ also suggests that she’s referring him as a dark, evil person.
“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.”
These lines show the other affects on her-how disturbed she is by his death. Otto Plath died when she was ten and ten years later, when she was twenty, she tried to get back to him in an attempt of suicide. The word “back” being repeated thrice shows how distressed she is. When she says “even the bones would do” maybe she thinks when she dies, she’d be buried near her father and that once she becomes a skeleton she would be back with him.
Stanza 13 says that after she had been rescued from the suicide attempt and glues back together, she knows what direction to go to. Her direction is to make a model of her father. she’s creating a substitute for her father by finding a real man whom she imagines is like her father. Plath marries him (Ted Hughes) confirming her vows by saying “I do, I do.” So here, she herself is showing that she is in love with a fascist. Therefore, by marrying a man who is modeled after her father she fulfills her electra complex.
Line 68 tells us that now that she has a model of her father, she is finally through with him and that she doesn’t need him anymore. She is through with the very alive memories of her father and their effects on her life. Now that she has declared she’s through with him, Plath details how she is through with him. “the black telephone’s off at the root, The voice just can’t worm through.” Plath signifies that she’s “through” with him by saying the telephone is “off at the root.” The phone having a root gives the idea that voices can’t “worm” through. It can be imagines as a black telephone,e growing like a plant, from Plath’s father’s grave. And the voices coming through would be like worms in the soil.
“The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.”
Sh’e has already made her husband out to be like Hitler and now he’s a vampire too. She starts by saying that he actually drank her blood for a year and then changes her mind and says he’s been drinking her blood for seven years. Apparently, she had been married to Ted Hughes for seven years. Drinking the blood is a metaphor used for Plath’s relationship with Hughes’s. Probably, something like he has been draining her life like a vampire drains out blood. The addition of “If you want to know” give a sort of thrust to her father who could be hurt by his daughter’s distress.
“Daddy, daddy, you bastard, i’m through. “
This line lands the whole poem to a crescendo. It’s a final condemnation made by her that she is totally through with him by the repetition of the word “daddy” and “bastard.” Noticeable fact is that Plath has used the word “daddy” only four time in the whole poem (not counting the title.) This affectionate term for father twice in the very last line makes it sound as if she’s beating on his chest to get her point across. Plath has criticized her father by calling him a Nazi, a devil and a vampire. but, in the end, the word bastard gives out a striking verbal punch and the reason for the poem to work itself up to.