Daddy Essay, Research Paper
Sylvia Plath?s poetry is well known for its deeply personal and emotional subject matter. Much of Plath?s poetry is confessional and divulges the most intimate parts of her psyche whether through metaphor or openly, without creating a persona through which to project her feelings, and through the use of intense imagery. Plath?s attempt to purge herself of the oppressive male figures in her life is one such deeply personal and fundamental theme in her poetry. In her poem, ?Daddy?, which declares her hatred for her father and husband, this attempt is expressed through language, structure, and tone. (Perkins, 591)
Sylvia?s father, Otto Plath, was a German immigrant and an entomologist who specialized in bumblebees. Plath described him to a college roommate as ?an autocrat . . . I adored and despised him, and I probably wished many times that he were dead. When he obliged me and died, I imagined that I had killed him.? (Perkins, 590) Plath?s father was a tyrant and ruled over her with an iron fist. Plath felt that her father, to suit his particular needs and whims, molded her. Plath?s relationship with her husband, poet Ted Hughes, was not much healthier. In 1962, after only seven years of marriage, Plath learned that her husband was having an affair. Two months later and five months before Plath committed suicide, Hughes left her for Assia Gutman. Plath had been subservient and coy towards Hughes, deeply loving and admiring him.
Hughes took Plath for granted and left her when he was no longer interested. She was devastated.
It is through such poems as ?Daddy? that Plath expresses her feelings of malice toward her father and husband for the way that they treated her. Plath felt dominated by both her father and husband. ?Daddy? describes these feelings of oppression and her battle to overcome the power imbalance. The intensity of this conflict is made extremely apparent as she uses examples that cannot be ignored. The atrocities of Nazi Germany are used as symbols of the horror of male domination. The constant and crippling manipulation of men, as they introduced oppression and hopelessness into her life, is equated with the twentieth century’s worst period. Plath?s father is transformed into a ?Panzer-man,? a ?Fascist,? and a ?bastard.? Words such as Luftwaffe, the aircraft known as the ?Angels of Death? used by Adolf Hitler during WWII, and Meinkampf, Hitler?s political manifesto, are used to characterize her father and husband as well as male domination in general. (Perkins, 594) The frequent use of the word black throughout the poem also conveys a feeling of gloom and suffocation.
Plath felt oppressed and stifled by men throughout her life. The first stanza of ?Daddy? conveys her feelings of domination by her father:
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.
Plath uses similes and metaphors to describe herself as a foot being cowed by a black shoe- her father- in which she barely dares to move. Other very intense similes and metaphors such as “Chuffing me off like a Jew. A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belson,” and “I think I may well be a Jew” clearly show the feelings of anguish and hopelessness she felt under her father?s control.
Strong images are presented throughout the poem. The words “marble-heavy, a bag full of God” convey the omniscience of her father’s authority and the weight it imposed on her throughout her life. Another strong image is the comparison of Plath?s husband to a vampire: ?The vampire who said he was you / And drank my blood for a year, / Seven years, if you want to know.? This stanza accounts the way Plath?s husband stripped her of her sense of self. Plath gave Hughes her trust and he gained total control over her, which he used to his advantage, thus ?drinking her blood.? Additionally, Hughes and Plath were married for exactly seven years before he left her for Gutman- the same duration in which the vampire drank. (Perkins, 591) The poem is written in stanzas of five brief lines. Though the lines are short, each contains imagery and metaphor that is powerful enough to convey Plath?s feelings without supplementary words. An example of this is: “If I’ve killed one man I’ve killed two-The vampire who said he was you.? The forceful, almost gruesome imagery of these lines overcomes the concise line scheme.
The tone of this poem is of a woman engulfed in spite and hatred. This outrage, at times, slips into the sobs of a child. This is evident in Plath’s continued use of the word daddy and her childlike repetition of words: “You do not do, you do not do” and “Daddy, daddy, you bastard.? Fear from her childhood moves her in directions that will take her far from herself. In one line in the poem she brings us starkly into the world of a child’s fear. She uses words that sound like the words of a child staring out at us from behind “a barbwire snare.? To her father, she says, “I have always been scared of you.?
In the poem ?Daddy,? Plath announces her rebellion from the oppressive forces and ties that have held her back throughout her life. She denounces them all and frees herself of their demands in the last stanza:
There?s a stake in your big fat 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.
This stanza reveals that Plath has finally ridden herself of her father?s control- he is dead now. Plath is most likely represented in the villagers who ?never liked? her father and are now ?dancing and stamping on him,? rejoicing over his death. She always knew he was a monster and no she is rid of him. Plath has cleansed herself of the domination placed on her by her father and husband. (Giles, 2229)
BibliographyGiles, Richard F. ?Sylvia Plath.? A Critical Survey of Poetry. Englewood: Salem Press, 1982. 2220-2231.
Perkins, David. ?Sylvia Plath.? A History of Modern Poetry. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard, 1987. 590-595.
Plath, Sylvia. ?Lady Lazarus?. Ariel. New York: Harper & Row, 1966. 6-9.
Plath, Sylvia. ?Daddy.? The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry. Ed. Jay Parini. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. 675-678.
Stevenson, Anne. Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989.