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“Daddy” by Sylvia Plath

Free essay First of all, in the scope of this paper, it is important to put an emphasis on the fact that Sylvia Plath’s works of literature rank the first among the outstanding poems of the 20-the century. It is important to pay additional attention to the fact that “Daddy” has been written by Sylvia Plath in 1962 for several months before her death (suicide). This poem has got a deep allegorical sense and is considered as the representation of the authors’ feministic approach towards life and relations between males and females. The core purpose of this research paper is to outline the core issues raised by the author and critical analysis the tools, which have been applied by the author for their representation.

“Daddy” may be considered as the type of confession due to the fact that this poem has got a deep background and the parental relationships are darkly examined even while taking into account the fact that the father of Sylvia Plath has died as she has been a child. The majority of literary men consider this poem as a confessional one. The nature of such a poem, in turn, implies that there is an option of fictionalizing the subject matter in order to meet the initial purposes and to assist in outlining the key ideas of the author. At the same time, the feelings of the author are not integrated into the plot of the poem.

While reading “Daddy”, the reader is provided with an intimate window into the authors’ soul. At the same time, neither the intense feeling of resentment nor the feministic approach towards males is not hidden or altered by the author. The set of biographical facts and emotions-based assertions are artfully mixed by Plath in this poem. There are three levels of outlining the personality of Daddy in the poem, which is personal, biographical, and allegorical level.

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While referring to the personal information of the main hero – father of Plath, it is important to rely on the following information. The father’s name was Otto Emile Plath and he was an immigrant from Grabow, Germany. In addition, he occupied the position of professor at the University, USA. When Plath was eight, her father died (it was in 1940). In the scopes of this discussion, it is important to put an emphasis on the fact that the father of Plath has not belonged to Nazis. Depicting him as a Nazi Sylvia has shown her distrust in men. The core reason for such distrust has been the fact that Plath has been abandoned by the core male figures in her life: the father, who has died, and after that the husband, who has violated her rights, cheated on her and finally left her in poverty in order to marry another woman (Strangeway 85).

The next issue to be discussed in the scope of this research paper is the detailed discussion of the poem and the implications of being a German immigrant in particular. The poem is opened by referring to the black shoe of the author’s father. The core reason for such a tool application is that the daughter compares her life with “living like afoot”. In other words, it is possible to say that entrapment and submissiveness have been implied by such a statement. After that, the idealized image of the father has been derisively commented in the following manner “Marble heavy, a bag full of God”. The background of her father has been summarized and the fact of living in the German-speaking part of Poland has been mentioned in the following manner: “Scraped flat by the roller / Of wars”. In this part, it is possible to see that the daughter has been afraid of her father. The set of the above-listed references may be considered as the introductory remarks, mainly developed for preparing the reader to the allegory, which is expected to come.

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Plath, describing the poem in her notes, says that the girl with the Electra complex is the speaker of the poem. She has lost her dad such an age when the father has been considered by her as God. An additional complication of her case has been the fact that her father belonged to the Nazi and her mother has probably been Jewish (which is true in the poem, but not in the actual life). As the daughter, Plath thought that two strains have married and paralyzed each other. That is why the author had to talk about tense issues while applying different allegorical tools in order to get free of such tension.

As it has been stated at the beginning of this paper, neither the father of Sylvia belonged to the Nazi nor her mother was Jewish. The author has applied such historical tools in order to add more drama to the rebellion against the fathers’ oppressions. It is possible to assume that the permissible limits of analogy are stretched in the poem. Such “light verse” (as it has been called by the author) is applied as an integrative factor between the flights of imagination and allusions, inherent to the childish imagination and the deadly serious rage in relation to the father-Nazi (Oates 44).

On the one hand, Plath’s situation has been characterized in the light of the nursery rhymes, while recalling the tale about the old lady in the shoe, and on the other hand, Jews have also been classified to “Belsen, Dachau or Auschwitz”.

The father is presented as the “Panzer-man” or as “gobbledy-goo”. For this purpose, the mix of English and German is applied:

I never could talk to you.

The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.

Ich, ich, ich, ich.

I could hardly speak. (Plath, 1962)

According to the analysis, carried out by Mutlu Konuk Blasing, the line “Ich, ich, ich, ich” may be considered as the skeleton (basis) of the poem. It is the pure reductive form, which is applied for supporting the four-stress rhythm. That is why it is possible to state a fact that “Ich” is applied by the author as the language “barb wire” for checking the tongue of the poet and for showing that “I” implied in the text is referred to as daddy (not to the author). In other words, “I ” is encoded to the form of “Ich”.“Ich” is the foreign word and its consonants are like a barbed-wire in contrast to the open vowel “I”. In addition, there is a rhyme between the words “I” and “speak” – consequently in such a way “I” may be considered as the tool of self-expression. For the daughter, the foreign word “Ich” is the sign of her Daddy and its continuous repetition may only hurt the daughter and put an emphasis on her early separation with the Daddy. More than that, the drama of the fathers’ language, which has been slicing the daughter, maybe easily interpreted as the set of cross-cultural and internal conflicts and wars. In such a manner the struggle between Nazi and Jews has been applied as an emblem of the destructive and silencing language (Blasing 5).

The next issue to be discussed in this paper is the usage of the German expressions by Plath throughout the poem. It is possible to assume that their core function is stylistic – they form the patterns of father’s/husband’s/men’s destructive and oppressive behavior. The German native speakers think that the hint for German “Ich” may be considered a mockery of the “I”.

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It is important to pay additional attention to the fact that there is a line, which states that “Every woman adores a Fascist” and at the same time author states that “The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you”. And an elaborate allegory, concerning the Nazi, is presented at the end of the poem when it is compared with the piece of vampire lore. According to the authors’ opinion, the dead Nazi-father is impersonated by the vampire-husband, who has drunk the wife’s blood in the timeframe of seven years of marriage and this awful torture has finished when the stake has been put through the heart of a husband – which is a traditional method, commonly applied for the vampire’s destroying.

However, it is possible to state the fact that the psychological aspect of human relations is only one of the aspects, outlined in the poem. The author has extended the references while outlining her dad as the German Nazi and the girl as the Jew. That is why, considering the tortures and the tortured person, described in the poem, it is possible to say that the historical aspects are also represented at an emotional level. While relying on the image of the boot, it is possible to assume that both daughter’s neurosis obsession nature, effective image, and brutality, which is mainly interrelated with the behavior of the Nazi officer, the father, are outlined (Martin 26).

There is a transition of the relationship from the level of father-daughter to the level of Nazi-Jew, presented in the poem. The emotional paralysis of the daughters’ recognition has been mainly caused by the hate of her father. Here it is possible to draw the parallel with the Jew-Nazi relations: ‘I never could talk to you. / The tongue stuck in my jaw’. That is why the image of a jaw becomes deeply interrelated with the concentration camp’s barbed wire and the repetition of the word “Ich” (a German word) is associated with the engines of the trains, which have carried the Jews to these camps. While relying on the fact that the rebellion against the language obscenity has been mainly interrelated with the emotional revolt against the father, the daughter has started to talk like a Jew. This fact may be considered as the empathy to those Jews, who have been put to the camps and suffered there. At this stage, the father has not associated with God anymore and his image is transmitted to the swastika ‘So black no sky could squeak through’.

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In accordance to the opinion of Majorie Perloff, (a poetry scholar and literature critic), the focus may be also put on the “NAZI Father of all of us” and the relations between a wife and a husband that are primary in comparison to the relations of a daughter and a father in this poem. That is why it is possible to state a fact that both the Freudian drama, implying the fact that it is better to die than to get back to the husband and Nazi allegory may be considered as the tool, which has been mainly developed for camouflaging the real thrust of the poem. This real meaning has been nothing more than a call for the rebellion against the deceiving husband.

It is possible to assume that the real enemy of the author has not been her daddy (“I was ten when they buried you”) because he has not been the Nazi in real life, it has been only the model, created by the author and related to the image of her father (Bucker 116).

“I made a model of you,

A man in black with a Meinkampf look

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”. (Plath, 1962)

While relying on the Poetic License: Essays on Modernist and Postmodernist Lyric source (Steinman 16), it is important to put an emphasis on the fact that the poem has been written before the authors thirtieth birthday and twenty years after the fathers’ leg amputation (this fact is referred in the 9-10 lines of the poem). Also before the poem has been written, the author has learned the fact that the alleged “vampire” (Ted Hughes), who has drunk her blood for seven years of their common life, has agreed to give her a divorce. Also, historically the timeframes 1961-1962 have been the years when the Adolf Eichmann has been executed. It is possible to allude the concentration camp imagery in the poem to this person. Consequently, both personal and historical victimizations and their vindication are outlined and more than that, dramatized in this poem. It is obvious that the fact of the war criminal (Eichmann) execution may imply only the partial justice for the Jews, who have died in the concentration camps and in the same way, the stake put into the “fat black heart” of a vampire, is only the preventive measure from the further misery. That is why it is possible to make a conclusion that the memories of Plath’s “Daddy” speaker represent the victimization echoing in each line of the poem and that the only issue they can achieve is the small victory over the “man who / Bit my pretty red heart in two” (Bryant 32).

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Anne Stevenson has made the following resume to the poem:

Anyone who has heard the recording of “Daddy’ that Sylvia made for the British Council that October will remember the shock of pure fury in her articulation, the smoldering rage with which she is declaring herself free, both of ghostly father and of husband. The implication is that after this exorcism her life can begin again, that she will be reborn. And indeed on ethical grounds, only a desperate bid for life and psychic health can even begin to excuse this and several other of the Ariel poems… (Stevenson 146).

The last issue to be outlined in the scope of this research paper is the fact that there is a set of accusations against Nazi influence, which are outlined in the light of the Plath’s daddy political activity and approach towards life. The core critic has been directed against the Absolute Monarchy, which has been led by Adolf Hitler, a manipulative dictator’s fearful rule. In the third stanza the German language is presented, “Ach, du” (English- Oh, You). When breaking down this phrase into two parts, the first word may be interpreted as a sign of grief (“Ach”) and, Du, which means You may refer to the author’s father, whom she meant to kill.

The following lines are given in the fourth stanza:

In the German tongue, in the Polish town,

Scraped flat by the rollers,

Of wars, wars, wars.

But the name of the town is common…(Plath, 1962)

It is obvious that the author’s hardline in these lines is the proof of the German occupation of Poland in the time frames 1939-1945 and in such a manner the author has shown the whole terror on the emotional and environmental level. This terror has been caused by the Pollock’s multifactorial control. For instance, in the line where the author has mentioned that “…the name of the town is common…”, despite the approach of Hitler, directed for bringing the original German tribes together and their allocation on the territory of Poland, the genocide of Jewish people is implied (Dalrymple 46).

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The emotional confusion occurs in the poem when the author has started to describe the physical features of her daddy and his occupational stance. It is outlined in the following stanza:

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. (Plath, 1962)

The obsessive nature of the daddy in relation to Germany is outlined in this stanza. At the same time, the set of issues deserve additional attention. For instance, in the first line, it is mentioned that “…With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo…” – these words give the feeling of the extreme dictatorship, which has been inherent to the political system of that time in the country of the author. The rejection of the fathers’ political ideas by the author is also shown in the following manner “…your Aryan eye, bright blue, Panzer-man, panzer-man, O you…”. Blue eyes, as a metaphor, imply the core feature of the representatives of Aryan Race.

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The occupation is outlined through the image of a panzer – man – the soldier with the heart hardened by the war and horror. Even while taking into account the fact that there is a significant difference between the harm brought by the Nazi and the family relations, described in the poem, it is possible to assume that they are bonded by the family morals, which have both destructive and reductive nature. It is possible to see these bonds in the last two stanzas of the poem:

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.

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. (Plath, 1962)

The author sincerely speaks about his heart in these stanzas. Sylvia’s husband is compared to a vampire, who has ‘consumed’ the emotions and the life from his wife, and in addition, he has been outlined as if he was the fathers’ substitute after the death. The author has intended to show the long-term tortures of the emotional energies pulling, made by her husband and also the awful feelings of the wife that are compared to the Swastika from her childhood. While relying on the “…fat black heart…” of the daddy, Sylvia was tending to show the ‘evil nature’ of her father in a daring way (Paty).

To conclude this paper, it is important to put an emphasis on the fact that this poem has the spirit of the rebellious freedom both from the political upheaval and from the tortures of the family life. This story is similar to the life situations of the thousands of people of the same epoch who have inhabited the same city Sylvia did. All of them were afraid of speaking and discussing their troubles because they have been afraid of execution.

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