The title “Daddy” evokes images of nurturing fathers willing to do anything for their children; it suggests innocence and protection. Plath could be using this in several different ways. It may be ironic – she uses this word to describe her father because he should have been a model for her, and he was the precise opposite of her ideals. It also suggests a longing for her father to have been this model. Finally, it may relate to the feminist issues when Plath wrote “Daddy” – fathers were all believed to be a perfect model for society, and women and daughters who were victims of them were mostly ignored.
The repetition of “you do not do” gives the persona an assertive edge; she stands up to her father. However, it also makes her sound a little immature, as though she has to express herself in this way. Indeed, the syntax throughout the poem is stilted, with little complicated vocabulary, giving the persona a childlike quality. Plath writes that she “lived like a foot” in the “shoe” of her father. It implies that her father, as the “shoe”, surrounded her. It could suggest that she could not escape him, and she “wore” him – he was a burden to her. She also writes that she is “barely daring to breath” in her father’s presence – she is terrified of him. This ties in with the shoe point made earlier – her father seems a tyrant, overbearing and forceful.
The poet describes herself as “poor and white”. At the time of the poem’s writing (1962), the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum. “Poor and white” may be an allusion to the “white trash” of the time. The elitist white people would have nothing to do with them, as they were socially unacceptable, and the black people wouldn’t accept them because they were white (of course, this replies in reverse.) By describing herself this way, Plath suggests that she is unaccepted by much of society because of her father. The first two lines of the second stanza seem confusing at first glance. “Daddy, I have had to kill you” refers to Plath’s desire to sever her relationship with her father. However, before she could do this, her father died, suggesting she never told him her feelings towards him and was only able to free herself of him (“killing” him in her mind) once he had actually passed away.
The “ghastly statue” description refers to one of Plath’s other poems about her father, “The Colossus”, where she thinks of him as a statue she pieces together. The “ghastly” description suggests she now regrets piecing him together – keeping him alive and supporting him. In “Daddy”, the “head” of the statue “pours bean green over blue”, in Plath’s description of the statue in the sea. Bean green is a dirty green colour, suggesting the statue (her father) taints the purity of the blue sea it is travelling through (wherever her father travelled, he tainted the purity of it for her.) Finally, Plath describes the Polish town as a “scraped flat”. The word “scraped”, with the long “a” sound, sounds drawn out and mournful. This, coupled with the harsh “cr” and the plosive “p”, makes the town’s troubles sound never-ending and strained.
In the fifth stanza, Plath sounds as though she desperately wants to discover her father’s “roots” and, therefore, her own. This suggests several things about the poet’s wishes. On the one hand, she wishes to uproot herself from her father – she wants to cut herself off from her family tree and be free of him. On the other hand, she sounds as though she desires to find out where she came from – she has a fascination with her father and his background. She wants to discover more about him – she is almost obsessed with him. The repetition of “ich” in six indicates that to Plath, the German language is completely foreign. It suggests that she is choking on the language she is trying to speak. It should also be noted that, in Nazism, the German language wasn’t fluid. By describing herself as a Jew (and implying that her father is a Nazi figure, particularly Hitler), Plath uses the Holocaust to metaphorise the relationship between her and her father.
This metaphor appears to be a hyperbole to some – Plath exaggerates the cracked relationship with her father and could even be viewed as offensive. However, she may also use this metaphor to show the scale of her emotional pain – the physical pain of the Jewish people equates to her emotional pain through living with her father. It also indicates how scared she was of him. Plath describes the “clear beer of Vienna” as “not very pure or true.” Adolf Hitler himself was of Austrian heritage (having been born in the Austro-Hungarian empire). This metaphor suggests that, although the beer of Vienna may seem “clear” to outsiders or supporters of Hitler (and therefore, using her Holocaust metaphor, her father), to those in the know, such as she, it is tainted. Vienna could also be a reference to Adolf Eichmann, whose office was based there. He was the official in charge of forcibly deporting and expelling Jews from Austria.
Plath attributes her father with his “Luftwaffe”, “neat moustache”, and “Aryan eye”. All these were features of Hitler – it was the idea of a “perfect Nazi”. By describing her father in this way, she cements her metaphor of the Holocaust. She also describes him as a “panzer-man”. This repeated description, which seems like a childish nickname, refers to a type of tank – it suggests that Plath feels her father flattens and destroys everything in his path. Plath starts the ninth stanza with the line “not God but a swastika.” During the Holocaust, many people gave up on their religion after facing terrible trials. They believed that their God had deserted them – why else would He not have saved them? Plath uses this metaphor to describe the fear possibly she felt of her father; God wasn’t saving her from him; she lost her faith and faced a future with a dictator (the “swastika”.) She also claims that “every woman adores a Fascist.” When she wrote the poem, many women were beginning to feel oppressed and discriminated against – this statement seems sarcastic and mocking of men’s beliefs.
At the time, women were expected to love their husbands regardless of their attitudes or whether they were violent; they weren’t supposed to go against them, as they had to be model wives and obey their husbands. In this way, Plath has allied herself with every woman who has been tormented by men. The poet describes her father with a “cleft in [his] chin instead of [his] foot.” This is a reference to Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda leader in the Nazi party, who was born with a club (“cleft”) foot. She later says her father is “no less a devil for that”, suggesting that although there were obvious physical differences between her father and Goebbels, they shared the same sense of tyranny and were equally frightening. Plath writes that her father “bit [her] pretty red heart in two.” We can compare this with the description of her father’s “fat black heart” near the end of the poem. Plath’s heart seems beguiling and feminine, almost seductive, whereas her father’s heart appears gross and repulsive in comparison.
The poet refers to a “model” of her father, which she makes, which she says “I do, I do” to. This suggests that she married a model of her father later in life – even though she almost despises her father, she still has an obsession with him and even falls in love with a man exactly like him. Later in the poem, she describes him as a “vampire”, suggesting that she realises her mistake of marrying a man so like her father – her husband oppresses her in much the same way and drains her by “drinking her blood” (or the life out of her.) Plath writes that “if I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two.” This suggests that she wants to purge herself of both men in her life, as they are the same to her in their attitude and appearance. It also suggests that all men are the same – they are all tyrants if left to their own devices. This is a pointed statement to men reading the poem in the 60s.
Plath describes the villagers “dancing and stamping” on her dead father. It suggests that a revolution against him has been reached and that surrounding friends or family have finally realised the scale of the emotional pain her father put her through. They now despise him for it and are more open too – perhaps they also faced some of this tyranny and can only now admit to it once he is dead (“They always knew it was you.”) In the last line, Plath writes “,,, Daddy, Daddy, you bastard, I’m through.” This juxtaposes two very different ideals together – the innocence and childishness of “Daddy” against the uncontrollable anger of the expletive “you bastard”. It suggests that the poet’s mind conflicts with the childish longing to love her “daddy” and the injustice she feels against her through what he has put her through. Finally, she makes a decision and tells her father, “I’m through” – she has “killed” her love for him in her mind and wants nothing more to do with him.
It is very hard, in this poem, to avoid the many links with Plath’s own life – this poem is semi-autobiographical in that events in the poet’s life are written about here. For example, Plath attempted to commit suicide at twenty, citing her reasons as to join her father in death (“At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you.”) Even considering the feeling of hatred we get from much of this poem, the phrase still shows that Plath still felt a childish longing to be with her father, and she portrays this in this poem. There is also a reference to her marriage to Ted Hughes – she writes that she married a “man in black”, and it was well known that Ted Hughes always dressed head to toe in black. There are many poems about fathers and parents in literature. For example, Seamus Heaney’s “Follower” describes the role reversal between him and his father in age.
If we compare this to Sylvia Plath’s poem, we see a slight similarity towards their attitudes to their fathers, but a chasm between their emotions. Heaney views his father as someone who pesters him in his age – “he will not go away” – whereas Plath appears more troubled by the memory of her father not leaving her (see “Daddy, I have had to kill you.”) Although many poems describe anger towards their fathers, Plath’s poem appears, to me, to be the most vindictive, and yet the most confused, of them all – her Holocaust metaphor coupled with the innocence of “Daddy” makes her seem confused about her attitude towards her father. Only when the end of the poem has been reached, do we see her overcome her demons and refuse to associate with her father any longer.