When one thinks of how poetry influences our personal lives and vice versa, Sylvia Plath’s life and poetry easily demonstrate this notion. Especially in her poem “Daddy,” Plath takes us through the innermost yearnings and mental anguish of a 30-year-old woman to whom life has not been fair on many sides. This article further discusses Sylvia Plath and the Poem “Daddy” Analysis.
On 27th October 1932, Sylvia Plath was born to Otto Plath, a professor and Aurelian Schober, Otto’s master’s student at the Boston University. Plath’s father died of diabetes complications in 1940, at which time Plath was eight years old. However, while she had minimum contact with her father, his death severely affected how she viewed life and relations, reflecting in ‘Daddy.’ (The Poetry Foundation)
Noteworthy reports claimed that her husband and fellow Cambridge scholar, Ted Hughes left Plath for one Assia Gutmann Wevill in 1962. In that winter, Plath wrote most of the poems comprising Ariel and died on 11th February 1963. (The Poetry Foundation)
Further, there is no doubt that Cambridge scholar was a prolific poet as other scholars have linked her intense poems to confessional poetry. She is also recognized for a literary niche that reflected an intense coupling of violent imagery and playful rhymes.
Colossus was the only work published while Plath was alive, and Hughes published her Ariel in addition to three other volumes of Plath’s work posthumously. She is a recipient of several awards – including the 1982 Pulitzer Prize, being the first poet to win it posthumously, for her The Collected Poems, which featured Daddy. (The Poetry Foundation)
General Overview of the Poem “Daddy”
Daddy is regarded as Plath’s most famous work – and the reason is not farfetched. The poem elicited various momentous reactions. Among feminists, it elicited rage against male dominance while also eliciting factual imageries among anti-Holocaust writers. The violent imagery, vitriolic tone, blend of fiction, and fact in painting Jewish suffering make the reading experience uncomfortable and exhilarating. (Andrew, 2020)
Also, this poem generally relates to the journey of a woman coming to terms with a highly revered father. Through the poem, she paints her father as a Nazi, vampire, devil, and a figure of her husband. (Andrew, 2020)
Stanza by Stanza Analysis of the Poem “Daddy”
In stanza one, the narrator declares an intent and paints an image of a train going off on a final death crusade. Also, the poet shows us she is about to escape from “a black shoe” – a metaphor for her father – wherein she had been trapped for 30 years.
In Stanza two, she explains that she can only escape by killing “daddy,” who resembles Otto, her actual father. The poem paints surreal imagery as she reveres her father as a “bag full of God” with “one big gray toe” – reminding us that indeed Otto’s toe turned black due to gangrene and later amputated. (Andrew, 2020)
In stanza three, we see Daddy’s head within the Atlantic, representing their home in Nauset Beach in Cape Cod, the Plath’s holiday home. There, the poet-speaker prayed for her father’s health.
Then, Stanza four takes us to Poland and World War II, where fact blends with fiction. Here, we observe a symbolism of her father, like Germany, during the war, demolishing life with his German tongue – although, in reality, Otto was born in Poland. Stanza five then hints at how Plath could never talk to her father, highlighting a lack of communication between the duo. (Andrew, 2020)
In Stanza six, the speaker revs the tension by her usage of barb wire snare. We see the narrator in pain even as repeating Ich — German for ‘I’ — four times emphasizes that her self-worth before her father, who now represents every German, is in question.
In stanza seven, we see her on a death train en route the Nazi concentration camps during World War. There, Jews were gassed and cremated in their millions. Stanza eight then takes us to Plath’s mother’s birthplace in Austria, reinforcing her identity as a Jew, carrying a Taroc pack of cards, and possibly gypsy blood. Some reviews have identified the use of similar occult symbols in poems like Ariel. (Andrew, 2020)
Stanza nine focuses on World War II and Daddy as a Nazi soldier. He is described as the ideal Aryan man, who speaks some gobbledygoo and made allusions to German army symbols.
Then, stanza ten presents Daddy as a swastika, a Nazi symbol originating from India. The size is such a great size that single shot black out the sky – alluding to the air raids in England. (Andrew, 2020) Subsequent lines then suggest how brutes and powerful despotic males attract female victims.
Stanza eleven shows her father as a teacher in a classroom and a devil, despite his unlikely appearance. Stanza twelve then shows that she knows that it was he who tore her into bits and divided herself. Otto’s death when she was 8 enraged her against God, and at 20, she attempted suicide. (The Poetry Foundation)
Stanza thirteen explains how Plath’s broken pieces were glued together by medical doctors after her suicide attempt. However, she was never the same again. The poem creates a model or version of her father resembling Ted Hughes, Plath’s husband. It is said to have the look of Meinkampf – Adolf Hilter’s book – which means “my struggle,” thereby associating it with suffering.
Stanza fourteen emphasizes her love for her husband as she informs her father that she is through while hanging up the metaphorical black telephone. (Andrew, 2020)
The penultimate stanza then reveals that the speaker has killed two — both father and husband. The husband is described as a vampire who had for seven years, sucked her blood, and her father can now rest.
In the last stanza, Plath shows how the villagers are happy that wooden stakes pierced daddy’s, big-black heart. This shows that the father’s demise had some people joyous. (Andrew, 2020)
Sylvia Plath is easily a genius as this intense poem presents both personal and historical accounts. However, in a BBC interview, Plath deflated the belief that the poem represents her life story. Nevertheless, the elements of contradictions altogether build an enigma not only around the poem but also around the person of Sylvia Plath.
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