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The poem “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath concludes with the symbolic scene of the speaker killing her vampire father. On an obvious level this represents Plath’s struggle to deal with the haunting influence of her own father who died when she was a little. Although what stands out on first reading “Daddy” is the Nazi imagery, it is interesting to note that the father is not called a Nazi in the first half of the poem. In stanza one he is a “… black shoe / In which [she has] lived like a foot” (2-3) which is certainly a stifling image but not yet a clear reference to the father’s evil nature.
Next he is “Marble heavy, a bag full of God” and a “Ghastly statue” (8-9), images which reveal the daughter’s struggle to cope with his death but do not reflect any bad intent on the part of the father.
The next two images describe Otto Plath’s death, which resulted from gangrene in his toe.
These references to the father’s fatal injury continue to indicate the daughter’s trauma, but they still do not paint the man as evil. In fact, these images arouse sympathy for the speaker’s father, far from the hate of the rest of the poem. From line 15 to the midway point of “Daddy,” Plath begins to use Nazi imagery, but she still does not have her speaker attack the father. Instead, the poem focuses on the daughter’s frustrating attempt to connect with her dead father through his native language, German.
It is “the language”Inot the father Iwhich is “… an engine/ Chuffing [her] off like a Jew” to the concentration camps she imagines (30-33). We have now reached the center of the poem, yet Plath’s speaker has yet to make a clear attack on her father’s character.
In the second half of “Daddy,” it is difficult at first to pinpoint where the figure of the husband enters the poem. Although the speaker doesn’t announce her marriage until line 67, there is reason to believe that she discovers a replacement for her father much earlier. The language of lines 48 to 50, “Every woman adores a Fascist, / The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you,” connotes an abusive relationship between husband and wife, not parent and child. Similarly, the phrase “the black man who / Bit my pretty red heart in two” (55-56) is much more appropriate for a scorned lover than a daughter. The most subtle clue of the shift from father to husband can be found in the first line of the poem’s second half. Plath mysteriously italicizes the word “you” when her speaker admits, “I have always been scared of you” (41). A possible explanation is that at this point the word’s meaning changes. This does not mean that the husband is the sole focus of the rest of the poem because the photograph of the father as teacher and reference to Plath’s suicide attempt clearly invoke incidents in the life of the poet before she married.
Instead, references to the two men are mixed together beginning with the italicized “you” of line 41. Analyzing the vampire metaphor makes this pattern quite understandable. When a person is confronted with a monster which resembles her father but is no longer him, she will undoubtedly be extremely confused. At times Plath’s speaker addresses the vampire as the new man it is, but she cannot help but fall into the habit of speaking to it as though it were the father it so closely resembles.
It is with the poem’s climax, the killing of the vampire, that Plath finally separates the figures of father and husband. Her speaker says the monster “drank my blood for a year, / Seven years if you want to know” (72-74). The period of seven years corresponds exactly to the duration of the poet’s marriage, thus identifying the vampire with the husband The daughter avenges the injury to her “pretty red heart” by stabbing the vampire’s “fat black heart” (56, 76). Since the original violence was described in language that implicated the husband, it is logical that the revenge is committed against him. Finally, when Plath concludes the poem with a reference to villagers dancing on the vampire’s grave, she asserts, “They always knew it was you” (79). This line’s meaning is just as mysterious as the earlier use of italics in line 41. One interpretation in keeping with the vampire theme is that the villagers, unlike the speaker, always knew the monster-husband was different from the dead father. In order to kill the vampire, and thereby escape both the husband’s control and the father’s haunting image, the speaker has had to learn what the villagers already knew: that daddy is gone and that the monster-husband may resemble him but is not him. Once she has overcome the confusion that has been evident since the midway point of the poem, Plath’s speaker can finally exorcise her father’smemory by rejecting the husband symbolically killing not one man, but two.
By analyzing “Daddy” in terms of the vampire metaphor we see how the poem attacks the speaker’s husband on a symbolic level while condemning her father on a literal level. The vampire metaphor corresponds exactly with the poet’s situation at the time she wrote the poem. While she had once loved her husband, she was suddenly forced to realize that he was capable of treating her horribly. In writing “Daddy” she seems to have realized the degree to which her feelings of abandonment following her father’s death, which was out of Otto Plath’s control, set up the devastation she felt following Hughes’ departure, which was his conscious action. It is only natural that she would find an image, which would link the two men but condemn only Hughes for his abandonment of his family. Seeing Hughes as a monster, Plath wrote “Daddy” in an attempt to overcome her feelings for him while exorcising the memory of her father’s equally painful though unintentional abandonment. Despite the mixing of father and husband in the antagonist of “Daddy” it is obvious which man Sylvia Plath is addressing with the poem’s last line, written during the breakup of her marriage and three months before her suicide: “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” (80).
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