Sylvia Plath is a distinguished American and world’s poet of the 20th century. Along with being famous for her poetry, she is also famous for her turbulent life. Her poetry is implicated with her outlook, feelings, life, parents, and origin. Plath finished her poem “Daddy” just before her suicide. In this poem, she gathered all her feelings towards her father. Her emotions are deep, expressing fear and hatred together with the desire for deliverance. She turned into a “poor and white” Jew, while her father is a “black shoe” and a Nazi (Plath 222-223). Her father is symbol of patriarchal society, tyrannical in its nature and with strict gender structure. The girl is an individual in this society who is struggling to escape from the tyrant. This poem uncovers numerous issues of the society, such us inequality in rights between men and women, problems of child-parent relationship, and freedom of self-expression. These social problems are believed to be relevant today, showing a lot of similarities between now and then.
To discuss the poem, it is necessary to give a brief outlook at the biographical background of the poet. According to Amelia, Sylvia’s mother, her husband had taken a dominant position in their family: twenty-one year difference, his superior education, long years of living in college dormitories, and their former teacher-student relationship suddenly made his family difficult for him (Bassnett 6). Amelia depicts her husband “as a rigid man, with problems about expressing his feelings for other people, but with bright hopes for her daughter” (Bassnett 7). When her father died, Sylvia was only eight years old. His death deeply traumatized her. Sylvia blamed him for deserting her, and it subsequently echoed in her poetry. Not only had his death traumatized her, but also her mother’s indifference to it. Aurelia viewed the death of her husband not as a burden, but “as an exercise in courage for the sake of my children” (Bassnett 7). Unlike her mother, Sylvia took her father’s death heavily, and the attitude her mother had taken was interpreted as indifference (Bassnett 7).
Sylvia Path’s popularity was enhanced by the BBC radio, where she had an opportunity to read her poems. Some of her poems were introduced with brief explanations, and such public readings confirmed her status as a successful poet (Woodrow 2). In her reading for BBC radio of “Daddy,” Sylvia Plath explains that this poem is spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. She thought her father was a God, but he had died. He was a Nazi, and her mother was a Jew. In the daughter’s mind, these two parts married and paralyzed each other (Bassnett 91). In the centre of “Daddy,” there is a little girl and her father. The girl has been living in his shade, and such a life for her is like “a black shoe” (Plath 222). Although she has been living in it for thirty years, yet she is still a little child, “barely daring to breathe or Achoo”. The image of her father is somewhat childish, meaning that becoming an adult does not change it at all. Her father is an incarnation of patriarchate, “marble-heavy, a bag full of God, Ghastly statue with one gray toe” (Plath 222). Such an image is a metaphor of the society with strict gender structure, where men are usually dominant over women. Without a doubt, it has been changing in the course of the time, but problems around gender equality still exist. When describing her father, Sylvia Plath is using various metaphors. Her father is a Nazi and her mother is a Jew, thus they are opposite to each other. The girl, therefore, is a child of both the Jew and the Nazi, a child of two antagonistic powers. This parallel brings to the family of the poet, where her father was superior and had poor relations with his daughter. Undoubtedly, her parents were not Jews or Nazi, but with such a strong metaphor the author is trying to reveal the true nature of her father. Here lies the problem of an individual, torn between herself and the society, herself and family. Being aware of strict social rules, she is yet not afraid to kill him, “a bag full of God” (Plath, 222). Surely, she does not intend to say she killed her father for real; what she is eager to say is that she destroyed the statue of her father that had been standing for dozens of years in front of her. She dared to oppose the social norms and to show herself as she is.
Throughout the poem, her father is lacking humanity, being portrayed rather as a symbol, not as a human. Her father is “an engine, an engine,” a “panzer-man,” a huge killing machine compared to Dachau, Auschwitz, and Belsen, notorious concentration camps of the Nazi war machine (Plath 223). After she had been oppressed by him for years, she is now being his victim, a Jew of his metaphorical concentration camps: “I began to talk like a Jew / I think I may well be a Jew” (Plath 223). The transition from her real father to a Nazi officer is supported by various symbols. One of them is black color with a black shoe, black swastika, black man with a black heart. The black color and the reference to the Nazis, concentration camps, swastika, and other Nazi symbols have a deep and heavy effect on the reader. The author of the poem is using numerous vivid metaphors and epithets to create a gloomy atmosphere of Nazism in order to understand the reader better. Such an atmosphere is similar to the life of a woman in a strict patriarchal structure, where she lacks the freedom for self-expression. Her reference to the Nazis is used to describe her own feelings with the help of the well-known facts and to give the readers a hint about the girl’s feelings.
Another image of the poem is her husband who is depicted as a vampire. He is very alike her own father, and given her words that “every woman adores a Fascist” and the early death of her father, she must have found her father in her husband (Plath 223). Despite she had been mentally tortured by her father, she needed him badly and was looking for him. But as she had no other notion of a man different from her father, she found a person very similar to him. Another tyrannical person she had found was “the vampire who said he was you,” addressing her father. But now she is free from both of them, saying “If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two — / The vampire who said he was you” (Plath 224). Again, here the patriarchal society provides parallels of the collective idea of a man as a tyrant and a woman as his subordinate.
This piece of art is a representative of particular group in the past raising out question of feminism and gender equality. Although it was not popular back than as it is today, it brings up issues relevant both back then and now, and may be called mainstream at this point. Apart from that, the poem shows issues between the girl and her father, thus touching child-parent issues and the conflict of the girl and the society. In general, this poem is seeking for such values as free self-expression, free expression of thought, and basic human values. The first and foremost idea of this poem is freedom of any individual, regardless of their gender or ancestry, and these ideas are also ideas of my own. The importance of this poem lies in the fact that its ideas have not lost its significance with time.