“Daddy” – Sylvia Plath (Poetry Analysis 1) Plath, best known for her confessional poetry is credited to have written the poem “Daddy” in the year, 1962. However, it was posthumously published in 1965. The use of explicit imagery throughout the poem reflects her style. Using the Holocaust as a metaphor, Plath gives the poem its much-intended nightmarish quality suggestive of her complex relationship with her father, Otto Plath. “Daddy” is almost potentially autobiographical in the sense that it provides a vivid, confessional representation of Plath’s mental illness.
Plath seems to be using small details from her day-to-day life. These images and references may at first seem incomprehensible from a distance. However, gathering background information on Plath or a scholar providing an explanation in his footnotes help render these references as somewhat comprehensible. The poem deals with Plath’s over-attachment to her father and the unease and unhappiness it caused within her life. It seems Plath wanted the authoritative repression caused by her father’s overpowering presence yet his utter absence to be blatantly obvious to her audience.
She compares her father to a black shoe she has been living inside of; a Nazi: comparing herself to a Jew therefore creating an oppressor-oppressed relationship between her father and herself in the poem; a swastika and finally a vampire of which there were two in her life; her father and her husband. The poem is also a manifestation of her apparent Electra complex. The lines, “I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look” are in reference to her husband, Ted Hughes whom she may have been attracted to cause of his resemblance to her father. It is a deliberation on a paternal relationship that ended when Plath was a child.
The poem is almost a declaration of independence but having lived her entire life being unable to communicate her pain and anguish, the idea of finally being able to liberate herself from the sentiment and affirming that “I’m through” towards the end of the poem may have been too much to bear for her. The poem begins by imitating the structure of a nursery rhyme. The prosodic aspect of poetry sheds light on abstract thought and because the subject matter of the poem is so heavy, Plath may feel the need to begin the poem with a nursery rhyme like structure making it easier to grasp.
This childlike intonation is emotionally distraughtful as the poem constantly shifts between the grotesque, the allusions and her fatal rage ultimately leading to the climax towards the end with Plath stating, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through. ” This is Plath’s attempt at changing her situation. The base skeleton of the poem is immersed within a four-stressed rhythm. This rhythmic structure is reduced in the line, “Ich, ich, ich, ich” that along with supporting the four-stress rhythm is also a “barb wire” of the language that cuts of her speech just like in Daddy’s in which ‘I’ is already phonetically present, struggling to be free.
Thus, “Ich” is a foreign language word in which the consonants create a barricade that prevent the open vowel ‘I’ to be liberated. Also, when one listens carefully, the repeated usage of “Ich” four times makes it sound like speak which is illustrative of her means of expression in the poem. Plath is finally voicing the way she feels after a lifetime of repression. The poem uses a five-line stanza called a Quintain, which means that there is no set rhythmic structure. There is powerful imagery, symbolism and word play in the poem.
However, it makes one wonder whether Plath intended to write about her father or whether her perception of him. By claiming that she lived within a black shoe, the idea that she has been encompassed within the colossal, watertight image of her father is demonstrated. It explains her posthumous relationship with him. Shoes are designed for comfort and protection and Plath’s father provided her neither of those two. She uses imagery to color the character of her father by associating it with black. The narrator also describes the oppressor-oppressed relationship through size.
The father is presented as a bigger, titanic figure. He is depicted as a statue but one that stretches across the “freakish Atlantic”, meaning that it spans across the whole of United States. Plath thought of her father as a God-like figure, whose omnipresence diminished after his death. She calls him “a bag full of God” weakening his influence on her. The narrator compares her German father to a Nazi. She uses imagery to build this metaphor. The neat mustache is a subtle reference; almost an allusion to Hitler’s mustache and his bright blue Aryan eyes symbolized the representation of an idealized Nazi race.
The transformation of her father from God to a Swastika as a symbol is an emblem of Nazism. This emblem is not just black but so black that it blots out the sky. This is a hyperbole. Further, stating that her husband has a “Meinkampf look” is another allusion to Hitler (Meinkampf was an autobiographical account by Hitler). This reflects her tendency to have the presence of her father in her life in some way or the other. Plath may consciously want to run from being victimized but she cannot help but be attracted to someone who resembles her father in some way or the other due to her Electra complex.
Towards the end of the poem, she settles on calling the two most important men in her life vampires instead of Nazis. From being living epitomes of horror they go to being portrayed as undead horrors. The narrator accuses her husband of being a vampire that sucked on her blood for seven years (mostly the duration of the marriage) that is a striking description of the pain she must have undergone during this time. When Plath wrote this poem, she may have written with the intention that no matter what she wrote, her father would not be able to read it.
Yet, she seems desperate to communicate something posthumously due to her inability to do so when he was alive. The title of the poem is an apostrophe; a figure of speech that she uses to directly address someone who is not present anymore. The playfulness of the title, “Daddy” is contrarily paired with the violent images of her father being characterized as a Nazi, a devil and a vampire. Daddy sounds like an affectionate name but the last line of the poem “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” reveals Plath’s conflicted state of emotions between loving and hating the memory of her deceased father.
She not only creates a figurative image of her father through the deft use of metaphors but also seeks to exact revenge on the man who scarred her childhood along with the man who ruined her for life. The poem is a constant struggle between her attempts at preserving their memory or at last letting it go and through that, thus, freeing herself. Although she is echoing her memories of victimization, she trivializes it by narrating it in a singsong nursery sounding rhyme. Nevertheless, this victory is only partial as is seen in the later events of her life. Plath committed suicide four months later.