Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” 

Sylvia Plath wrote her poem “Daddy” in October of 1962, four months before her suicide, and I am astonished at the sad urgency presented. In this semi-autobiographical work, the female narrator ruminates about her complicated relationship with her father. Put in Sylvia Plath’s own words, it concerns “a girl with an Electra complex [whose] father died while she thought he was God. Her case is complicated by the fact that her father was also a Nazi and her mother very possibly part Jewish. In the daughter the two strains marry and paralyze each other – she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it.” This Electra complex is represented by the particular diction and informal, confessional language of the poem.

The first line, “You do not do, you do not do,” sets the tone with its assertive yet childlike voice that carries very rhythmically throughout the rest of the poem. This sets up a pattern of repetition and end rhyme with the ‘ooh’ sound: do, shoe, achoo, you, blue, du, two, Jew. Some of the ending rhymes are fascinating, such as “gobbledygoo” and “glue.” I really loved the lines “But they pulled me out of the sack / And they stuck me together with glue.” She is a doll coming from a grocery sack, already broken. But the next line seems disdainful, like Plath is sneering at people who think she/the girl can be so easily fixed by insubstantial glue.

These simple, mono-syllabic words paired with words like “chuffing” and “Luftwaffe” make me think there is an internal struggle between being a ‘daddy’s girl’ and an adult woman. The twelfth stanza especially:

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 (Plath 407).

The simple word choice creates an interesting contrast with the mentioned suicide attempt and her intent to return to her father in death. Suicide is such a complicated action, and to speak of it in such a child-like and simplistic way illustrates how much she loved her father, how much she hates him for dying and leaving her. The repetition of the word “back” also demonstrates the narrator’s longing for her father, despite the multiple comparisons to a Nazi.

The enormous amount of WWII references is the most marked thing in “Daddy.” There are a dozen or more references, like “panzer-man,” “Luftwaffe,” “Jew,” “Polack,” “Meinkampf,” “swastika,” and “chuffing me off like a Jew.” These references, particularly the last one, imply that the narrator feels her father has terrorized her like the Nazis did the Jews. Then she changes to speaking about vampires, alluding to her husband and her father. By the end the narrator has successfully killed her father’s memory as the villagers are “dancing and stamping” on his grave. Her last emphatic lines, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” mean the narrator is done with her father, and perhaps life.

 

 

 

 

Poulin, A. Contemporary American Poetry. 8th ed. Cengage Learning, 2005. Print.

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