Critical Analysis of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”

Sylvia Plath uses her poem, “Daddy”, to express intense emotions towards her father’s life and death and her disastrous relationship with her husband. The speaker in this poem is Sylvia Plath who has lost her father at age ten, at a time when she still adored him unconditionally. Then she gradually realizes the oppressing dominance of her father, and compares him to a Nazi, a devil, and a vampire. Later, the conflict of this relationship continues with her husband which led to a short and painful marriage. In “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath, the author illustrates her feelings of anger and resentment towards her father and husband along with being oppressed for most of her life through her poetic devices of vivid metaphor, imagery, rhyme, tone, and simile.

Metaphor plays a major role in this poem because strong metaphors are conveyed throughout the poem though shoes and feet are a recurrent image in this poem; they take on different nuances of meaning as the poem proceeds. In line two, the speaker compares herself to a foot that “lives” in a shoe, the shoe is her father. Analyzing this metaphor on an abstract level is much less helpful than visualizing it. Then the metaphor evokes various helpful associations: Commonly, a shoe protects the foot and keeps it warm, in this poem. However, the shoe is a trap, smothering the foot. The adjective “black” suggests the idea of death, and since the shoe is fitting tightly around the foot, one might think of a corpse in a coffin. Plath thus feels at the same time protected and smothered by her father. Later, the black shoe emerges as a military “boot” (line 49) when the father is called a Nazi.

The image of the poem helps the reader to relate to Plath’s harsh life. An example of this is when the devil is introduced with “A cleft in your chin instead of your foot/But no less a devil for that”. (53-54). Again there is the reference to the foot, this one being suspicious just like the origins of the father. The cleft in the foot, the devil’s hooves, is compared to the cleft in the father’s chin. This is developed further with the images of the father and the husband who is like the father being a “vampire” (72)—a bloodsucking zombie who still haunts her long after his death. Likewise, Plath describes how her life was being drained away as the result of a marriage, similar to that of how a vampire drinks the blood of its victims.

The poem seems to have an irregularity in rhyme. “Daddy” is not a free flowing poem because it is able to split it up into three separate parts. The rhyming of the ‘oo’ sound is evident throughout the poem. However, there is no regular pattern of which lines rhyme. These irregularities reinforce the life that Plath lived without her father, one that could speak at happiness and then plummet to sadness in a short period of time. Also the poem is written in stanzas of five short lines. These lines are like a Mike Tyson jab, short but extremely powerful as an example of this, “If I’ve killed one men I’ve killed two—The vampire who said he was you.” (75) The powerful imagery of these lines overpowers any of the rhyme scheme.

The tone of this poem is an adult engulfed in outrage. This outrage, at times, slips into the sobs of a child. This is evident by Plath’s continued use of the word daddy and the childlike repetition “You do not do, you do not do” (1) and “Daddy, daddy, you bastard” (80). Fear from her childhood moves her in directions that will take her far from herself. She also brings us starkly into the world of a child’s fear. She uses words that sound like the words of a child staring out at behind “a barb wire snare” (26) saying “I have always been scared of you.” (41) The tone then changes toward the end of the poem from fear of a child to a strong woman. She states, “So daddy, I’m finally through.”(73) “And I knew what to do.” (63) And in the last two stanzas demonstrates an attitude of power. Plath has overcome her powers; she has killed all the self-doubt inside of her, and she is illustrating how she now has power over the memories of her father. She is confident enough to speak directly to her adversary. The tone in these lines also gives more power to the poem. “Daddy, daddy, you bastard” (80) has more effect on an audience than “Daddy was a bastard”.

In the poem Plath uses several similes in the seventh stanza. “An engine, an engine Chuffing me off like a Jew. A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. I begin to talk like a Jew. I think I may well be a Jew.” (31-35) The similes within this stanza position the reader to see the great degree of suffering the speaker went through, as it is compared to the torment and anguish millions went through during World War II and in turn, sympathy is drawn from the reader as everyone deserves to grow up with two living parents. When Plath describes her father is like Hitler. “I have always been scared of you, with your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo. And your neat mustache And your Aryan eye, bright blue.”(41-44) By comparing her father to Hitler, Plath crease a parallel in that Hitler was responsible for the lives of so many Jews. In parallel, her father is like Hitler and she is like Jew.

“Daddy” is a negative, dark poem. However, at the conclusion of the poem it is clear that Plath was able to resolve her conflicts. She has also been able to evoke great amount of power within the poem to the readers. One can see this from her use of vivid metaphor, imagery, rhyme, tone, and simile as major poetic devices. She finishes the poem with a powerful, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”(80) showing that she has finally reached freedom.

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