Analysis of Sylvia Plath’s Poem


This presentation is an analysis of Sylvia
Plath’s poem “Daddy.” Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy” is one
of her most famous poems and one of the best examples of confessional poetry. Confessional poetry
is a style of poetry that became popular in the
mid-twentieth century that dealt with personal subject matter
that previously had not been openly discussed in American poetry such as private experiences with and
feelings about death, trauma, and depression, and it’s told
in the first person. The poem is made of 16 five-line stances in which the speaker
uses the first person to directly address your daddy who represents more than just her father
but male dominance in general. The tone, or the author’s attitude toward her subject, is very angry and violent toward her
father and male dominance in general, which he seems to represent for her the
speaker. The poem “Daddy” compares herself to a
Nazi, a vampire, a devil, a brute, and a resurrected
figure in the form of her husband. The Nazi references such as “Ach du” (German for “ah you”), “Ich, ich, ich, ich” (German for I,I,I,I), Panzer man (which is a German tank), the mentioning of swastikas, fascists, “Meinkampf look,” etc. shows her anger and implies
that her daddy is associated with the tyrannical reign of Hitler. Plath herself said he speaker of the poem is a girl with an Electra
Complex, which is what psychologist Carl Gustav Jung called a
girl’s psycho-sexual competition with her
mother for possession of her father, which is a female version of the Oedipus
Complex. If this is the case, the angry tone could be explained as the
girl’s anger for her father for dying when she was only 10, as it says, which is at the height at this stage. In other words, she may be angry over the sense of abandonment she felt with her father’s death. The speaker uses a sing-song nursery-
rhyme scheme and organization, establishing her as a childish figure in
relation to her authoritative father, which the use
of the name “Daddy” also reinforces, as this is the name a child would
typically give her father. The “oo” sound used throughout the
poem as in “You do not do, you do not do” sounds childish. The poem’s childish
rhythm makes the poem ironic and sinister in juxtaposition to its angry, violent content. It also sounds chant-like and feels almost like a curse of her father. “Daddy” has been praised by feminists for its unadulterated rage towards male dominance represented in the poem by the father
who is also compared to a Nazi, vampire, devil, brute, and her ex-husband. The speaker of
the poem feels the only way to free herself from
his God-like power and the patriarchal presence, shown when she describes him as a giant statue, “Marble heavy, a bag full of God,/ Ghastly statue with one gray toe/ Big as a
Frisco seal”) is by killing him. Since he is
already dead, she must kill his spirit that haunts her like a vampire, so she feels she must put a stake
through his “fat, black heart,” so that the villagers can dance on his
grave in the form of an exorcism. The poem is an expression of her desire
to be free of the power and control she feels her dead father has over her. The poem can also be read as not
just about her father but about male dominance over women in
general. Plath may have felt this way because her father left her and her
mother alone in a very patriarchal time period (the 1950s to
1960’s) in America, making it hard to get by
without him, because her husband Ted Hughes had just left her alone with her two children to care for when
he left her for another woman, or because she felt society in general
was not fair to women. It is important not to make too many
parallels between the speaker in the and the author, however. There are definite
parallels between the author and the speaker in the poem; however, not enough to say that the two
are synonymous. For example, the speaker’s father died when she was 10 but the author’s died when she was 8; the speakers father is said to be a
Nazi and Plath’s father was a German immigrant but not an actual Nazi, the speaker and Plath both made
unsuccessful attempts at suicide,and the speaker’s husband is said to drink
her blood for seven years and Plath at the time she wrote the poem had been married to
her husband for seven years before he left her for another woman. Why doesn’t the author make exact
parallels with her life? This is probably because the poem is not
meant to be taken as completely autobiographical.th This
allows the speaker to represent more than just herself but perhaps all women who are oppressed by men or male dominance, and Daddy also represent more than
just the speaker’s father, but he is a symbol of male dominance and repression of women which she she suggests is evil by comparing him to a Nazi, vampire, and
her cheating husband. In fact, Plath’s father was a fairly normal, loving father before he died when Plath was eight, so it is possible that she felt more
oppressed by the loss of him or the memory of him as a fatherless daughter than by her actual father. In the time
period when he died (the 1940s) Plath and her mother probably struggled to survive without a male breadwinner as her mother had to
move them from the coast to teach advanced clerical studies at Boston
University after his death. Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy” has many characteristics of post-modernism such as the use of stream-of-consciousness, emotionalism, fragmentation, and a troubled topic (killing her father and comparing him to
a Nazi). It uses paradox in that she says she
must kill him even though he’s already dead and she says she kills two men when she kills
him, which also makes her an unreliable
narrator along with the claims such as when she says she is through
with him but one wonders if she really is since
still so obsessed emotionally with her dead father. Years after his death, it also includes an
unrealistic and downright impossible plot since she says she will
kill a man who is already dead. Additionally, it uses temporal distortion,
or the use of a nonlinear timelines, in that she claims to be a Jew being
shipped off to various Nazi prison camps years after they were closed. Finally, it
uses maximalism, which is a disorganized lengthy and
highly detailed form of writing. The chaotic and difficult-to-follow poem without a clear meaning and the
possibility of various interpretations is typical of post-modernism.

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