The Loss of a Parent and Letting Him Go
In her poem “Daddy”, Sylvia Plath speaks to her deceased father, explaining to him how his death caused her pain throughout her life and why she needs to “Kill” him. Sylvia Plath’s father died when she was very young. In her poem she shows that as time passed his absence ate away at her. The pain that has built up is expressed through a dramatic and grotesque tone that distorts her description of her father toward the grotesque. For example she briefly describes her father as German before directly calling him a Nazi and a Fascist. Her distress is so great that her father’s hunting memory takes on a supernatural presence, as if he is a ghost that she needs to “kill”. In a sense, she means she has to remove him from her psyche, she can no longer think about him because all he does is cause her pain. Plath uses this sort of disturbing imagery and metaphor in “Daddy” to describe her distress and to explain why she needs to metaphorically kill him to reach peace.
Plath begins by likening her father to a god to describe how he is omniscient and all powerful over her. She describes him as colossus, a “Marble-heavy [statue]” (Plath 8). Given that Plath’s father died when she was very young we know that any interaction she had with him was through the perspective of a young child. As children our parents physically and figuratively tower over us but as we age we start to view them as our equals. Because Plath never had the chance to age with her father, to her he still feels larger than life. Plath uses the image of a massive “Marble Heavy” statue to figuratively convey how powerful he feels compared to her. His massive marble body is literally rock hard compared to her puny fleshy body. She then starts to push this image toward the grotesque by describing her father’s statue as “a Ghastly statue with one gray toe Big as a Frisco seal And a head in the freakish Atlantic.” (Plath 9) Plath implies that his statue is so gargantuan that his toe is equal to that of a “Frisco Seal” a massive stamp that can be found on the side of a boxcar that ran from San Francisco to St Louis. She then implies that while the toe is in the western half of the country the statue is so big that the head is in the “freakish Atlantic.” Plath equates her father to a massive statue to make a statement about how present her dead father feels to her. Her father figuratively and psychologically stands above her life like a god.
Plath reinforces this feeling of her father having a consuming presence by using direct phrasing and ghostly sounding rhyme that echoes a spiritual summoning. The opening line “You do not do, you do not do” (Plath 1) begins the repetition of an “ooooo” sound that is emitted from the words “you” and “do”. The sound is reminiscent of ghostly moan, the presence of which makes her father feel less like a distant memory and more like a present ghost. Plath describes her father in this way to convey to the reader that his dominating presence is a pressing issue. Furthermore the line “You do not do, you do not do” (Plath 1) is very declarative and sounds like it could be the beginning of a witches spell. The declarative phrasing makes the poem feel like a speech in an exorcism. Plath isn’t speaking to us about her father, she is calling out her father’s ghost with intent to kill.
After describing the size and extent of her father’s ghostly presence, Plath’s goes on to use Nazi analogies to describe him as brutish and abusive, furthering her grotesque tone. She be- gins by commenting on her father’s German characteristics and then alluding it to fascism and the Nazi reign. She describes him as having, a “Neat mustache, Aryan eye, bright blue. Panzer- man, panzer-man, O You” (Plath 45). Here the images of a “neat mustache” and an Aryan blue eye are clear references to the image of a “proper” German Nazi. Though Sylvia Plath is not Jewish she refers to herself as such implying, “I think I may well be a Jew” (Plath 35). By refereeing to the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people, Plath suggests that her father’s abuse of her was comparable to that of the Nazis. Plath furthers the idea of Nazi like abuse as she equates him to “[a] Fascist, The boot in the face, the brute brute heart of a brute like you” (Plath 48-50). By describing him as a brutish fascist that “Boots [women] in the face” she is very clearly accusing him of abusing her, suggesting to the reader he may have actually been psychically abusive.
Plath goes on to explain that when her father was alive she did not hate him, ultimately revealing that in fact it was his absentees that caused her to suffer. At a time Plath, “used to pray to recover [her father].” (Plath 14). Considering that at one point she prayed to “recover” him implies that her hatred is new. From this we can deduce that it was after he died, and needed to be recovered, that her hatred culminated. While her father was alive he was not abusive and even after his death she prayed because she wanted him back. Overtime however, the pain of loosing a parent at a young age set in and her father’s image was besmirched with hatred for abandoning her. She further clarifies that she is connecting abandonment with abuse when she describes her ex-husband as a “man in black with a Meinkampf look, And a love of the rack and the screw.” (Plath 65-67) In referencing her husband Plath ties him in with the supposed Nazi like abuse. His “love of the rack and screw” is a clear reference to torture, implying that both he and her father physically abused her. In 1963, Sylvia Plath’s husband Ted Hughes divorced her for another woman (Guardian). Like her father, Hughes abandoned her, causing her severe pain that she likens to Nazi like abuse.
Plath then transitions to using Vampire metaphors to describe how being abandoned by her father led her to depression. As an extension of her father, Plath’s describes her husband as “The vampire who said he was [her father] And drank my blood for a year.” (Plath 72-73). Like a vampire, her husband and her father’s ghost have drained on her happiness similar to a vampire sucking a victims blood. Plath is explaining why she has to “kill” her father, she can no longer endure the stress her father has caused her, it will suck out her entire soul if she doesn’t. There is also an elaborate connection being made here because like a vampire her father is dead but praying on the living.
Finally, Plath symbolically describes how she “kills” her father, ending her suffering by planting “a stake in [his] fat black heart” (Plath 76). By killing her father she means she has separated herself from him psychologically, removing him from her thoughts completely. Because she is excluding something so significant to her identity, a parent, one can understand how difficult this must be. The reader sees how difficult “killing” her father was for her by seeing how excited the figurative village is when he is dead. Following the death of her father Plath reveals that “The villagers never liked [her father]. They are dancing and stamping on [his body]. They always knew it was [him].” (Plath 77-79). Furthering the vampire analogy, Plath creates an image of a village haunted by a vampire now celebrating the end of his rule. In this analogy she is the village and her father is the vampire. She is internally relieved and happy, “dancing and stamping” (Plath 78) on her now dead father. She concludes with “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” (Plath 80) solidifying to the reader that the death of her father’s ghost has ended her suffering.
“Daddy” shows how massive an impact the death of a close family member can have on an individual. The traumatic event of loosing her father deeply affected Sylvia Plath throughout her life. All of us blame or praise our parents for effecting who we are. Family relationships in part define our insecurities and strengths, they contribute to our happiness or depression. By telling her story with powerful imagery and metaphor and conveying her emotion with a grotesque and furious tone Sylvia Plath conveys this theme.
Plath, Syliva. “Daddy” Literature: The Human Experience. Richard Abcarian, Marvin Klotz and
Samuel Cohen, eds. 12 ed. Boston: Bedford. 2012.953. Print.
“Ted Hughes’s Wife, Sylvia Plath, Famously Killed Herself. But What of His Mistress, Who Four Years Later Did the Same?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 19 Oct. 2006. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
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