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Most people know Sylvia Plath for her wounded soul. Perhaps this is why readers of her poems, like “Daddy,” so easily relate to it. She has a remarkable talent for putting some of the most difficult emotions into words. The reader can feel her suffering because of the way she writes. She reflects on her father after his passing in the poem “Daddy.” This is not your standard obituary poem where you mourn the loss of a loved one and hope to see them again. Plath is actually relieved that he is no longer in her life. In the verses of this poem, she explains the causes of this emotion.
In reference to “Daddy,” specifically, Plath calls herself (when discussing her own writing) a “girl with an Electra complex. She believed her father to be God till he passed away. She continues by stating that her mother may be partially Jewish and that her father was a Nazi. She “needs to act out the dreadful little allegory once before she is free of it” through the poem.
According to literary historians, neither of these assertions about her parents were true; rather, they were added to the story to heighten its poignancy and push the boundaries of allegory.
About the poet
Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer who lived from October 27, 1932, until February 11, 1963. She is recognized for developing the confessional poetry genre and is most known for her two published collections, The Colossus and Other Poems (1960) and Ariel (1965), as well as The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical book that was released just before her passing in 1963. Published in 1981, The Collected Poems contained previously unpublished poems. Plath became the fourth person to earn the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry posthumously for this collection in 1982.
The discussion Plath has with her father regarding the repressive nature of their relationship in the text should be taken into account while analyzing the key topics in “Daddy.” This piece and others that Plath authored frequently address the idea of release from oppression or from captivity. She was obviously still enthralled by her father’s life and the way he lived, even after his passing. However, life and death should also be regarded as significant themes in Plath’s “Daddy.” This poem would not exist as it does if her father had not lived the way he did and passed away at the age he did while Plath was still relatively young.
You do not do, you do not do Any more, black shoe In which I have lived like a foot For thirty years, poor and white, Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
The speaker of “Daddy” discloses that the subject of her speech is no longer there in the first stanza. She says, “You do not do,” repeatedly because of this. The next line is somewhat unexpected because it doesn’t convey sadness or loss. Instead, it starts to make clear the specifics of this father-daughter connection. The speaker describes her father as being like a “black shoe.” Up until the third line, when it is revealed that the speaker herself has felt “like a foot” compelled to spend thirty years in that shoe, the parallel appears odd. The reason the foot is “poor and white” is because the shoe has been suffocating it for thirty years and has prevented it from ever seeing the light of day.
This stanza’s final phrase makes clear that the speaker felt both smothered and afraid of her father. She also claims that she was frightened to breathe or sneeze because of how terrified she was of him.
Daddy, I have had to kill you. You died before I had time—— Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, Ghastly statue with one gray toe Big as a Frisco seal
The speaker of “Daddy” expresses her own wish to murder her father in the second stanza. I have to kill you, the opening line reads. The next paragraph continues by stating that the speaker did not truly have time to murder her father because he passed away before she could. She doesn’t express regret or sadness in making this confession. Instead, she refers to him as “a bag full of God,” implying that she viewed both her father and God with fear and trepidation. He is a “ghastly statue with one grey toe as big as a Frisco seal,” according to her description.
She implied that her father had little emotional capacity when she compared him to a statue. One of the sea lions that can be seen in San Francisco is referred to as a “Frisco seal.” The reader may see how huge and domineering her father seemed to her when she says that one of his toes is the size of a seal. He was emotionless and hardened, and now that he is dead, she thinks he appears to be a huge, menacing statue.
And a head in the freakish Atlantic Where it pours bean green over blue In the waters off beautiful Nauset. I used to pray to recover you. Ach, du.
The speaker in this passage recalls the stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and the lovely town of “Nauset” while gazing at her deceased father. She does, however, preface her descriptions of the lovely Atlantic ocean with the term “freakish.” This shows that, despite the fact that her father may have been a perfect example of a human being, she was intimately aware of something terrible about him. The speaker admits in the last two lines of this verse that she prayed for her father’s recovery at one point while he was ill. The German word for “oh, you” appears in the final line of this poem.
In the German tongue, in the Polish town Scraped flat by the roller Of wars, wars, wars. But the name of the town is common. My Polack friend
The speaker of “Daddy” asks questions concerning her father’s background in stanza four. The speaker is aware that he hails from a Polish community where German is the dominant tongue. She reveals that the town where he was raised had gone through numerous wars. Because of the common name of his hometown, she would never be able to tell which particular town he was from. The last line of this stanza is cut off. The speaker starts by stating that she had gained knowledge from her “Polack pal.”
Says there are a dozen or two. So I never could tell where you Put your foot, your root, I never could talk to you. The tongue stuck in my jaw.
By describing that she discovered via a friend that the name of the Polish town her father was from was a very popular name, the speaker completes what she started to tell in the previous verse. She draws the conclusion that she “could never tell where [he] put [his] foot” for this reason. It is obvious that she will never be able to pinpoint his specific ancestry. Because she “could never talk to [him],” she had never asked him. The speaker then goes on to say that she was terrified to speak to him. When describing how she felt when she wanted to talk to her father, she said, “The tongue stuck in my jaw.”
It stuck in a barb wire snare. Ich, ich, ich, ich, I could hardly speak. I thought every German was you. And the language obscene
She proceeds to talk about how she felt around her father in this verse. She had the impression that her tongue was trapped in barbed wire. The German term for “I” is “Ich”. This reveals that she was unable to speak to her father without stammering and saying, “I, I, I.” She continues by saying she initially believed all German men to be her father. This demonstrates that she does not perceive him as a familiar or intimate friend of hers. Instead, she views him as she would any other German man: filthy and cruel.
An engine, an engine Chuffing me off like a Jew. A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. I began to talk like a Jew. I think I may well be a Jew.
In the seventh verse of “Daddy,” the speaker starts to tell the audience that, while her German father was in charge, she felt like a Jew. The speaker is aware of how powerful this analogy is but nonetheless uses it without hesitation. She feels that the oppression she has endured under her father’s rule is terrible and intolerable and is comparable to the persecution of Jews by the Germans during the Holocaust. She explicitly mentions Auschwitz and other concentration camps because of this. She goes on to say that after being suppressed and oppressed by German rulers, she started speaking like a Jew. Then she comes to the conclusion that because she experiences the same oppression as the Jews, she can relate to them and is, therefore, a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna Are not very pure or true. With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack I may be a bit of a Jew.
The speaker continues to disparage the Germans in this stanza by equating their notion of racial purity with the “snows of Tyrol” and the “clear beer of Vienna.” She draws the conclusion that they “aren’t very true or pure.” The speaker then reflects on her family history and the gipsies who were a part of it. Since the Nazis singled out both gipsies and Jews for extermination, the speaker empathizes not only with Jews but also with gipsies. She actually seems to relate to anyone who has ever experienced German oppression. The speaker infers that she is likely part Jewish and part Gypsy in the final line of this poem.
I have always been scared of you, With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo. And your neat mustache And your Aryan eye, bright blue. Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You——
Here, the speaker musters up the strength to talk to her deceased father. She acknowledges having been frightened of him her entire life. She hints that her father had some connection to the air force because “Luftwaffe” is translated as “air force” in English. But “gobbledygook” is just nonsense. This suggests that the speaker believes her father’s speech was incomprehensible to her. She was terrified of him and everything about him in this situation. He was always someone to fear and she could never understand him. She was terrified of his “neat moustache” and “bright blue Aryan eye.” The Nazis may have considered him to be of the superior race because of the way they described his eyes. He had blue eyes and was an Aryan. According to the speaker, he was a forceful and intimidating figure, and she strongly relates him to the Nazis. The analogy between her father and a Nazi is continued by the fact that a “panzer-mam” was a German tank driver.
Not God but a swastika So black no sky could squeak through. Every woman adores a Fascist, The boot in the face, the brute Brute heart of a brute like you.
The speaker compares her father to God in this lyric. She blatantly perceives God as an unsettling, domineering figure who obscures her reality. This is the reason she compares her father to a huge, sky-spanning black swastika. This stanza’s third line introduces a caustic description of women and men who are similar to her father. She sneers, “Every woman adores a fascist,” before describing the brutality of men like her father. In the final two lines of this stanza, the poet employs the word “brute” three times. If she didn’t write these remarks in jest, she obviously thinks that women have a propensity to fall in love with aggressive brutes for whatever reason.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy, In the picture I have of you, A cleft in your chin instead of your foot But no less a devil for that, no not Any less the black man who
The speaker depicts her father as a teacher who is seated at a blackboard in the opening line of this stanza. In truth, the author’s father was a professor. The speaker’s opinion of her father is as follows. When she visualizes him seated at the blackboard, she can clearly see the cleft in his chin. Then she explains that the cleft in his foot, rather than his chin, actually belongs there. This merely indicates that she sees her father as the very embodiment of wickedness. The speaker thinks the devil wears his cleft on his chin rather than his feet, despite the fact that the devil is frequently depicted as an animal with cleft feet. She refers to her father as a “black man,” not because of the color of his skin but because of the darkness of his soul. Due to a sentence break by the author, this stanza ends with the word “who.”
Bit my pretty red heart in two. 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.
The speaker completes her thought and admits that her father has crushed her heart with the first line of this stanza. He “bit [her] gorgeous red heart in two,” she claims. A better understanding of the speaker’s relationship with her father is revealed in the remaining lines of this verse. Even though he was a vicious, domineering tyrant, she had had a deep affection for him. She may have been able to adore him as a youngster despite his brutality. But as an adult, she is unable to look past his vices. This verse explains that the speaker lost her father when she was just ten years old and continued to feel his loss until she was twenty. To see him again, she even made an attempt at suicide. She believed that having her bones interred among his bones would be comforting enough for her, even if she never saw him again.
But they pulled me out of the sack, And they stuck me together with glue. And then I knew what to do. I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look
The speaker admits in this stanza that she tried to kill herself but was unsuccessful. She says she was discovered, “pulled…out of the sack,” and put back together “with glue.” This is when the speaker had a revelation. She understood she had to construct a new version of her father. She resolved to locate and fall in love with a man who made her think of her father. Here, Freud’s idea of the Oedipus complex appears to be relevant. According to the belief, boys and girls grow up to find husbands and wives who are similar to their fathers and mothers, with females falling in love with their fathers as children and boys with their mothers. The speaker has previously claimed that women adore a cruel man, and perhaps she is now admitting that she herself has done so in the past. It is for this reason that the speaker claims to have found a “model” of her father who is “a man in black with a Meinkampf look.” The last word of this lyric most likely refers to the fact that the man she selected to marry looked like both her father and Hitler, even though “Meinkampf” means “my fight.”
And a love of the rack and the screw. And I said I do, I do. So daddy, I’m finally through. The black telephone’s off at the root, The voices just can’t worm through.
The speaker explains in this poem that the husband she married loves torturing others. She says he has “a love of the rack and the screw” because of this. When she says, “And I said I do, I do,” she admits that she wed him. She then informs her father that she is finished. This implies that she no longer had to grieve her father’s passing because she had made him again by being married to a tough German man. She continues by comparing her father and her to a phone call. She has just hung up, thus ending the call.
If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two—— The vampire who said he was you And drank my blood for a year, Seven years, if you want to know. Daddy, you can lie back now.
The speaker of “Daddy” reminds the listeners that she has previously claimed to have murdered her father in this verse. She admitted that he actually passed away before she could reach him, but she still takes the blame. She now claims that if she killed one man, she had actually killed two. Most likely, she is referring to her husband. She describes her husband as a vampire who was meant to be an exact replica of her father. He wasn’t just like her father, it turned out. In actuality, he robbed her of her life. She describes him as a vampire who devoured her blood because of this. Why she first claims that he drank her blood for “a year” is unclear. The speaker suddenly has a change of heart and adds, “Seven years, if you want to know,” instead. She is informing him that the part of him that has survived inside of her can also pass away as she says, “Daddy, you can lie back now.”
There’s a stake in your fat black heart And the villagers never liked you. They are dancing and stamping on you. They always knew it was you. Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.
In this stanza, the speaker recounts how her deceased father has continued to torment her despite being dead. It is said that she must stab her father in the heart to kill him the way a vampire is supposed to be murdered. She goes on to say that “the peasants never liked you” to her father. She explains that they tread on his grave and dance on it. The people “always knew it was [him],” the speaker claims. This implies that those close to them have long held the impression that her father is odd and mystifying. The speaker ends the poem by telling her father that she has had it with him. Despite the fact that he has been deceased for a while, it is obvious that remembering him has cost her a tremendous deal of pain and suffering. Without admitting that her father was a bully, the speaker was unable to continue. She was able to cease being tortured by him from the afterlife once she was able to accept who he really was.