In the poem “Daddy”, Sylvia Plath uses many literary devices to illustrate her struggles for freedom in relationship, precisely with her father and husband. She uses heavy metaphors and dense allusion to create imagery of hatred towards her relationship between both men. It is important to know Plath’s historical background before readers dive into any of her artistic work. Sylvia had a very negative relationship with men in her life especially her father and husband.
Slyvia’s father, Otto Plath passed away when she was eight, in which it took a huge toll in Sylvia’s life. Sylvia had always longed for a good relationship with her father, but Otto’s true connection between his children was only through academic achievement. This prompts Sylvia to work hard and excel in school, but death came visiting her father too early before they reach the ultimate father and daughter relationship Sylvia had hoped for. She felt disappointed, and in some way cheated because her failure to really get to know the man whom she calls father (“Shmoop Editorial Team”).
Her real-life husband Ted Hughes also affected her emotionally as he left her for another woman after a long struggle in their marriage. This only contributes her rage, and vengeance which would come up in her later work. Even though we usually are very strict when it comes to separating the speaker of the poem and the author of the poem, in many ways, her real-life persona speaks for her in the poem. It wouldn’t be fair to take her word in the poem granted as a display of her relationship (like comparing her father to a German Nazi, and a vampire) but we can analytically unravel the hidden message in the metaphor she uses to describe her constant battle with struggle in her life. She starts off the essay with:
Any more, black shoe.
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo. (2-5)
In this stanza, she metaphorically speaking about the entrapment of her father memories in her life, like the little spaces in between a foot and a shoe. The confinement makes it seems hard for her to even breathe, or in her case, living an uneasy life. So we got the expression that she is talking to his father, hence the title Daddy. We can tell that she has a bad relationship with her father that is making her life miserable. She goes further to explain the relationship with her father is similar to what happens during holocaust. In line 29-35, she uses a train engine to illustrate her as a Jew being transported to a concentration camp. She describes her father as a nazi with “neat moustache”, and bright blue Aryan eye for which we got the image of him as Hitler. In a sense, she was the victim of her own father, and had to “kill” him in order to gain freedom (6). She also wrote:
In the picture I have you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any les the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.(52-55)
A strong metaphor that refer to her father as an evil (using the color black as a color symbolism) man-devil who bit and broke her heart into two. Her tone throughout the poem was that of hatred and disgust. Even though she kept on rambling on how she hates her father, the content of the poem wasn’t purely hatred. She still loves her father as it was said in line 14, “I used to pray to recover you” (14). This event took place after she “killed” her father which shows that she wishes that her father is with her again (6).
I truly believe the speaker is being overly exaggerated when it comes to using metaphors and similes to show how much she hates her father. First and foremost to this inference is the way she uses the word daddy instead of father, which is only used to show fondness toward the other person. Deep down, she truly loves him and wishes for his love despite of all the things he had done to her. She even tells us how she was heartbroken when they buried his father when she was only ten years old.
The overwhelming scheme of her depression prompts her to commit suicide, but found a way around to “be” with her father. She married a man that has the characteristic of her father. I found this interesting because the result of her father’s death should be the opposite. She should feel like a burden has been lifted from her and that she no longer has to deal with the man that always scared her, like the one she mentioned in stanza 9, “I have always been scared of you”. She even marries a man that has all the traits of her father as she said it in stanza 13, “…And the I knew what to do. / I made a model of you, / A man in black with a Meinkampf look” (63-65). This prompts me to think that the speaker never really got over his dead father.
Towards the very end, she describes how the man she marries sucked the blood out of her life, just like a vampire. The experience she went through was the same with her father, and just had to kill him. “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” was the last line of the poem (80). This line was supposedly intended to make the reader think that she finally got over her fear of her dead father. But, she still uses the informal noun Daddy, which reveals that she still has some affectionate towards her father.
She describes the relationship as Fascism “Every woman adores a Fascist, / The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you” (48-50). In a way, she forces herself to be overpowered by a tyrant in order to seek for love. It is revealed that it wasn’t his father fault in the first place, but her choice to be in that situation in reference to the line “Every woman adores a Fascist” (48). She has the free will to get out of the relationship, but she “adores” the characteristic of her father, and let herself deteriorate while doing so (48).
Courtney from Study Moose
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