Analysis of Daddy by Sylvia Plath


Sylvia Plath was the daughter of Otto Plath, a German immigrant college professor, and his student Aurelia Schober. Her father was an authoritative figure in her life and she rudely shaken when her father died when was still young, eight years old. She had a troubled relationship with her father but felt betrayed at his death. From the known surroundings in Boston, the family moved to Wellesley. Plath was good student and started writing when she was young. She won many awards for stories and poetry. Her works were published in many magazines. During her undergraduate years she suffered depression. In her own words she was flooded by “joyous positive and despairing negative—whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it.”  Today we know it as a bipolar disorder, but then there was no treatment.

The poem ‘Daddy’ was written on October 12th1962 and it remains one of the most debated poems of Plath. Few months later she took her life. This poem talks about her father, his German roots, her love and hatred for him. But if she had to write a poem so emotionally charged nearly 22 years after his death, he must have been a great influence in her life even if it was only for eight years. The outpour must have been fuelled by her recent separation from her husband. Her poems were very brutal and ‘Daddy’ is one such poem.

Plath starts off by saying she felt like a foot living inside a black shoe for thirty years unable to breathe or sneeze. For this reason she wanted to kill her father but he had died before that. The sense of being overpowered by her father is portrayed in the lines “with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal, And a head in the freakish Atlantic.” Plath acknowledges her German and Jewish roots and says she has a ‘gypsy ancestress’. She brings in the Nazi cult and the holocaust when she says she saw all Germans in her father. She was scared of all them. Yet every woman adored a Fascist with the ‘boot in the face’.

Her daddy was one who broke her heart into two yet she he was not a ‘devil’ for Plath. He died when she was ten and she tried to take her life when she was twenty and be with him at least in bones. She was saved and put together. Then she made an effigy of him. She also married a man who she believes drank her blood for seven years but now she was through with everything. She feels she has killed her father and her husband or rather she wanted to do it because these men were the vampires of her life. She ends the poem saying that the villagers also never liked him and they stamped and dance over him. She concludes the poem in the harshest manner, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through”.

The poem ‘Daddy’ has 16 stanzas each with five lines. There are 80 lines in the poem. The meter is mostly tetrameter with an occasional use of pentameter. Enjambment is frequently used as in

Ghastly statue with one gray toe

Big as a Frisco seal

Scraped flat by the roller

Of wars, wars, wars.

Metaphor and simile are present. The lyrical notes are brought about by the assonance, alliteration and half-rhymes used. The poem is full of allusion and imagery combined with the poet’s childhood. At times the language is borrowed from nursery rhyme and songs. German words are used to drive home the point her father was German and maybe he would have spoken those words with Sylvia. In Plath’s own words:

“Here is a poem spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. Her father died while she thought he was God. Her case is complicated by the fact that her father was also a Nazi and her mother very possibly Jewish. In the daughter the two strains marry and paralyze each other—she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it.”

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