Analysis of the Poem Daddy by Sylvia Plath

Analysis of the Poem Daddy by Sylvia Plath

Q. Write an analysis of the poem Daddy by Sylvia Plath.

“Daddy” is one of Sylvia Plath’s most famous and controversial poems. Published posthumously in 1965, it’s primarily interpreted as a dark indictment of her relationship with her father, Otto Plath. He died when she was only eight years old.

Line-by-Line Analysis of the Poem Daddy by Sylvia Plath
Stanza 1

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.

You do not do, you do not do

The line suggests a sense of absence or neglect on the part of the father figure. The sense of abandonment is further emphasized by the image of the “black shoe.” It is a metaphor for the father’s dominance and control over the speaker’s life.

In which I have lived like a foot

It emphasizes the more prominent themes of entrapment and suffocation throughout the poem. The speaker cannot escape or break free from the father’s control.  

 Poor and white 

This suggests a sense of social and economic marginalization that the speaker experiences.

The word “poor” emphasizes the sense of financial struggle and hardship that the speaker faces. Moreover, the word “white” suggests a sense of racial privilege and marginalization.

“Barely daring to breathe or Achoo” suggests the speaker’s sense of suffocation and entrapment in her relationship with her father. “Achoo” is an onomatopoeic word, i.e. the sound of a sneeze. The word “Achoo” suggests a sense of constriction and repression,

Stanza 2

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 second stanza begins with a powerful declaration:

Daddy, I have had to kill you.

This line suggests a sense of empowerment. The act of killing is a metaphor for the speaker’s attempt to overcome her father’s dominance and control over her life.

You died before I had time

The line suggests a sense of loss and abandonment. The speaker feels deprived of the opportunity to have a more meaningful relationship with him.

bag full of God

The image conveys the sense of domination and control that the father exerts over the speaker.

The “gray toe” and “Frisco seal” convey a sense of horror and disgust, as if the father is a grotesque and monstrous figure.

Marble-heavy, a bag full of God”

This father’s image highlights his power and dominance, with the word “God” suggesting a sense of divinity and authority.

Stanza 3

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.

And a head in the freakish Atlantic

It could symbolize the idea of feeling out of place, alone, or tossed about in an unpredictable sea of emotions, just like the unpredictable nature of the Atlantic Ocean. This may reflect Plath’s state of mind when dealing with the issues explored in the poem.

It can also be a reference to Plath’s father’s death and the imagined journey of his body across the Atlantic (as Otto Plath was German). The term “freakish” could convey her feeling of the unnatural or horrifying reality of death.

Where it pours bean green over blue

This is the description of the sea (the Atlantic, as mentioned in the previous line) with its varying shades of green and blue.

The “bean green” could reference the green hues of the sea under certain conditions or even possibly suggest the green hue of German military uniforms, tying back to the father figure in the poem.

By blending these colours, Plath creates an emotionally complex image that reflects the speaker’s emotional turmoil and ambivalence. Symbolically, the speaker struggles to reconcile her father’s dual nature as a nurturing force and a source of pain.

In the waters off beautiful Nauset

This line puts the poem in a real place, Nauset in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This beautiful place might symbolize a happy past that changed because of the speaker’s complicated relationship with her father.

I used to pray to recover you

It tells us the speaker wanted to feel close to her father again, even though he caused her pain. The word “pray” shows how much the speaker wanted to fix her relationship.

Ach, du

Finally, “Ach, du” is a German phrase that means “Oh, you” in English. Using a different language, Plath shows the gap between the speaker and her father.

Furthermore, this phrase directly addresses her father, highlighting the poem’s conversational, almost confessional nature.

Stanza 4

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

In these lines from Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy,” the speaker brings up her father’s heritage and the impact of war on his hometown. By doing so, Plath highlights the historical and cultural context that shaped her father’s life and, in turn, her relationship with him.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town

It tells us that the speaker’s father comes from a place where German and Polish cultures mix. This blending of languages and cultures emphasizes the complexity of her father’s background and identity.

Scraped flat by the roller / Of wars, wars, wars

These lines paint a picture of a town devastated by conflict. It also suggests that the speaker’s father might have been affected by war, which could influence his behaviour and relationship with the speaker.

But the town’s name is common 

It implies that the town’s name is ordinary. Despite her father’s hometown’s unique history and experiences. This line might show how the speaker feels disconnected from her father’s past because the town’s name doesn’t reveal the whole story.

My Polack friend

Finally, “My Polack friend” connects the speaker to someone of Polish descent, possibly a friend who shares her father’s background. This friend might help the speaker better understand her father’s heritage and experiences.

Stanza 5

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.

The speaker talks about her struggle to connect with her father, mainly because of her cultural and language barriers.

Says there are a dozen or two

This line tells us that there are many towns with the same name as her father’s hometown. This makes it difficult for the speaker to know exactly where her father came from, which adds to her feeling of disconnection from his past.

So I never could tell where you / Put your foot, your root

It means that the speaker couldn’t understand her father’s origins or the roots of his identity. This creates a distance between them, making it hard for her to feel close to him.

I never could talk to you

The line shows that the speaker had trouble communicating with her father. This might be because of their language differences or a lack of understanding.

The tongue stuck in my jaw

It is a powerful image that illustrates the speaker’s inability to speak with her father in the poem Daddy by Sylvia Plath. It suggests that she felt silenced. She cannot express her thoughts and feelings to him. 

Stanza 6

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

The speaker continues to describe her struggle with communication and the influence of her father’s heritage on her perception of the world.

It stuck in a barb wire snare

It is a powerful metaphor for the speaker’s inability to speak to her father. The image of barbed wire suggests pain, entrapment, and the lingering impact of war – which might also symbolize the emotional barriers between the speaker and her father.

Ich, ich, ich, ich

It is a repetition of the German word for “I.” This repetition emphasizes the speaker’s difficulty in speaking and expressing herself in her father’s language. It also shows her frustration and feelings of isolation.

“I could hardly speak” reinforces the speaker’s struggle to communicate with her father. This lack of communication contributes to the distance and misunderstanding between them.

I thought every German was you

It shows how the speaker’s father’s heritage has influenced her perception of Germans in general. She associates her father’s qualities and experiences with all people of German descent.

And the language obscene

It implies that the speaker finds the German language offensive or indecent, possibly due to her negative experiences with her father. This perception adds another layer to the communication barrier between them.

Stanza 7

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.

The speaker introduces a new metaphor and explores her feelings of oppression and persecution, drawing a parallel to the experience of Jews during the Holocaust.

An engine, an engine / Chuffing me off like a Jew

It could be seen as a reference to the trains the Nazis used to transport Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust.

A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen

These are some of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps, emphasizing the horror and suffering of these places. By mentioning these camps, the speaker intensifies the sense of persecution she feels in her own life.

I began to talk like a Jew / I think I may well be a Jew

It shows the speaker is identifying herself with the experience of Jews during the Holocaust. This identification could be a way for her to express her feelings of pain, loss, and oppression. 

Stanza 8

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsye ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

The speaker examines her mixed heritage and continues to explore her identification with the Jewish people while questioning the purity of other cultural symbols.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna / Are not very pure or true

It refers to iconic symbols of Austria and the broader German-speaking region.

By questioning their purity and truth, the speaker challenges the idealized image of these places and the cultural values they represent. This could be a way for her to express her disillusionment with her father’s heritage.

With my gipsye ancestress and my weird luck

This introduces the idea of a mixed heritage, with the speaker acknowledging her Romani ancestry. The mention of “weird luck” might suggest that this ancestry has influenced her life, often associated with mysticism and unpredictability.

And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack

It refers to tarot cards commonly associated with fortune-telling and divination. By mentioning the Tarot pack twice, the speaker emphasizes her connection to this mystical heritage aspect.

I may be a bit of a Jew

This line continues the identification with Jewish people from earlier lines in the poem. In the phrase “a bit of a Jew,” the speaker acknowledges her feelings of oppression and persecution. In the poem Daddy, Sylvia Plath aligns herself with the historical suffering of the Jewish people.

Stanza 9

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——

The speaker expresses her fear of her father while drawing connections between him and the imagery of Nazi Germany, further emphasizing the sense of oppression and persecution.

I have always been scared of you

It plainly states the speaker’s fear of her father, a constant presence in her life. This fear contributes to the complex emotions she experiences in her relationship with him.

With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo

This connects the father to Nazi Germany’s air force. The “Luftwaffe” is a German compound word, combining “Luft,” meaning air, and “Waffe,” meaning weapon.

The Luftwaffe was the aerial warfare branch of the German Wehrmacht during World War II. It was established in 1935 as a part of Adolf Hitler’s rearmament efforts, and it played a significant role in Nazi Germany’s military operations throughout the war. 

The term “gobbledygoo” is a play on the word “gobbledygook,” meaning nonsensical or confusing language. The speaker might suggest that her father’s words or actions were difficult to understand or felt oppressive.

And your neat mustache / And your Aryan eye, bright blue

It describes physical features reminiscent of Adolf Hitler and the idealized Aryan race promoted by the Nazis.

By comparing her father to these figures, the speaker emphasizes her feelings of fear and oppression toward him.

Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You

This refers to a panzer, a German armored vehicle used during World War II. By calling her father “Panzer-man,” the speaker further aligns him with the imagery of Nazi Germany and its military power. It reinforces her sense of fear and the destructive nature of their relationship.

Stanza 10

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.

Not God but a swastika

It refers to the Nazi emblem, which features a black swastika on a white circle with a red background. It is commonly associated with Nazi Germany, and the speaker uses it to describe her father.

By comparing her father to this dark symbol, the speaker implies that he represents oppression and cruelty. The image of a sky unable to “squeak through” suggests an overwhelming sense of darkness and confinement.

Every woman adores a Fascist

This is a provocative statement that could be interpreted in several ways. It may be seen as a sarcastic comment on people’s attraction to influential or authoritative figures, even harmful ones. Alternatively, it could critique societal expectations that force women into submissive relationship roles.

The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you

It further emphasizes the father’s oppressive and violent nature. The image of “the boot in the face” is a powerful symbol of domination and cruelty, while the repetition of the word “brute” reinforces the idea of the father being a harsh, unfeeling figure.

Stanza 11

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 presents a mental image of her father and explores the negative aspects of his personality and influence on her life.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy, / In the picture I have of you

It describes the speaker’s specific memory of her father, possibly as a stern or authoritative figure. This image of her father standing at the blackboard might relate to his profession as a professor and scholar. Otto Plath, Sylvia’s father, was a professor of biology and a bee expert.

A cleft in your chin instead of your foot

This is an interesting detail about her father’s physical appearance. The mention of a cleft in the chin instead of the foot could be a play on the idea of the devil. Because traditionally, the devil has a cloven hoof. This wordplay adds a sense of ambiguity and complexity to the father’s character.

But no less a devil for that, no not / Any less the black man who

It continues the father’s association with the devil or a dark, menacing figure.

By stating that he is “no less a devil” despite the difference in physical traits, the speaker emphasizes her father’s negative impact on her life.

Stanza 12

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.

In her poem Daddy, Sylvia Plath reveals the deep emotional pain caused by her father’s actions and the impact of his death on her life.

Bit my pretty red heart in two

This line describes the emotional pain inflicted by her father. The biting of the heart symbolizes her deep hurt and betrayal, while red suggests love, passion, or even anger.

I was ten when they buried you

It reveals that the speaker’s father died when she was young. Her father’s death at such a young age likely intensified her feelings of loss and longing for connection.

At twenty I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you

The speaker attempted suicide to reunite with her father. This highlights her father’s death’s profound impact on her life and her desperate desire to find closure or connection with him.

I thought even the bones would do.

The speaker was so desperate for a connection with her father that she believed even being near his remains would provide some solace.

The poem Daddy emphasizes the intensity of Sylvia Plath’s longing for a relationship with her father, even after his death.

Stanza 13

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 describes her recovery from her suicide attempt and subsequent actions to understand her feelings about her father.

But they pulled me out of the sack, / And they stuck me together with glue

Metaphorically, it describes the process of being saved from her suicide attempt and being put back together.

The imagery of being “pulled out of the sack” and “stuck together with glue” conveys a sense of fragility and the struggle for recovery.

And then I knew what to do

It signifies a turning point in the speaker’s life, where she finds a way to cope with her feelings about her father.

I made a model of you

This act of creation could be a form of therapy or an artistic expression that helps her understand her relationship with her father.

A man in black with a Meinkampf look

The “man in black” might suggest an image of authority, danger, or even evil, playing into the poem’s overall demonization of her father’s figure.

The “Meinkampf look” refers to Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” meaning “My Struggle” in German. By associating her father with this infamous book, Plath continues the metaphor of her father as a Nazi-like figure.

By portraying her father as a man in black with a menacing appearance reminiscent of Hitler, the speaker emphasizes the negative aspects of her father’s personality and the pain he caused her.

Stanza 14

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 continues to describe the symbolic model of her father. In the poem Daddy, Sylvia Plath asserts her newfound independence from her father’s influence.

And a love of the rack and the screw

The imagery associates the father figure with torture devices, further emphasizing his oppressive and hurtful nature.

This portrayal intensifies the negative aspects of the father’s character and highlights the pain the speaker has endured.

And I said I do, I do

‘I do, I do’ can be interpreted as a marriage vow. It refers to  Plath’s marriage to a man who is like her father, which was true in her real life; her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, was said to have reminded her of her father.

Another interpretation is that she affirms her decision to confront and break free from her father’s influence.

So daddy, I’m finally through

This signals a turning point in the speaker’s journey as she declares her independence from her father’s control. This statement indicates that she has found the strength to move on from the pain he has caused her.

The black telephone’s off at the root, / The voices just can’t worm through

This metaphor of a disconnected telephone signifies that the speaker has ended her emotional connection to her father.

The imagery of voices being unable to “worm through” suggests that she has successfully blocked out the harmful influence and memories associated with him.

The word “voices” may represent the memories, thoughts, or emotions the speaker associates with her father.

These “voices” could be harmful or painful reminders of the past that have affected the speaker’s emotional well-being.

The phrase “can’t worm through” employs the imagery of a worm attempting to burrow or crawl through a barrier but unable to do so.

Using the verb “worm,” Plath emphasizes these voices’ persistence and insidious nature, suggesting they have been difficult to escape or ignore.

Stanza 15

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.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——

The speaker suggests that she has overcome not just one but two oppressive figures in her life, both of which are connected to her father somehow.

This line can be interpreted as a symbolic victory, where “killing” represents confronting and defeating the negative influences in her life.

The mention of two figures indicates that the speaker has had to deal with more than just her father’s impact but also another figure or situation that has caused her pain and suffering, which she associates with him.

The second person the speaker mentions wanting to “kill” is a symbolic figure, a vampire.

The vampire who said he was you / And drank my blood for a year.

This vampire represents another oppressive figure in the speaker’s life, which she associates with her father.

While the vampire’s identity is not explicitly stated in the poem, it can be someone who has had a similarly harmful effect on her life, just like her father.

This could be a romantic partner or another authority figure who took advantage of her vulnerability, causing her emotional pain.

Stanza 16

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.

The speaker triumphantly asserts her victory over her father and his oppressive influence in the poem Daddy by Sylvia Plath. The imagery and metaphors convey her newfound liberation.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart

The metaphor of a stake being driven through a vampire’s heart is a traditional way to kill a vampire. 

A “stake” refers to a sharpened piece of wood traditionally driven through a vampire’s heart to kill them in classic vampire lore. In the poem, the stake symbolizes the final defeat of the father’s harmful influence over the speaker’s life. 

The “fat black heart” suggests a sense of darkness and emotional cruelty.

And the villagers never liked you.

It implies that the people around the speaker have always been aware of the father’s negative influence. This line adds a sense of validation and support to the speaker’s feelings about her father.

They are dancing and stamping on you

The people around the speaker actively celebrate the defeat of the father figure.

Their dancing and stamping symbolize a sense of relief and freedom from his oppressive presence.

They always knew it was you 

This line validates the speaker’s feelings and experiences about her father, emphasizing that she was not alone in her perceptions.

Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through

This is a final, powerful statement of the speaker’s liberation from her father’s influence.

The repetition of the word “daddy” is both affectionate and infantile, but it’s starkly contrasted by the harsh language that follows – “you bastard.” This juxtaposition underlines Plath’s complex, conflicted emotions towards her father – a mix of longing, resentment, anger, and even love.

“I’m through” signifies a finality, an end to her emotional struggle. It’s as if Plath is liberating herself from the haunting memory of her father and the emotional hold it had on her.

Both poems, “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus”, touch on Plath’s relationship with her father, Otto Plath. In “Daddy,” she directly addresses her feelings for him, using Holocaust imagery to express her victimhood.
In “Lady Lazarus,” her father isn’t explicitly mentioned, but the presence of an oppressive male figure could be interpreted as a reference to him.

 

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