What do the Holocaust allusions, in Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" bring to the poem?
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The poems and stories of Sylvia Plath have not lacked for posthumous analysis by academics and authors in the five decades since her suicide. Considered a "confessional" writer whose works are semi-autobiographical, and whose lifetime bout with depression certainly contributed to the content of her work, "Daddy" represents one of Plath's more controversial poems, no subject being more sensitive than the Holocaust.
Relationships between fathers and daughters are often complex, especially if the father is somewhat cold or distant and not prone to outward demonstrations of love. That Plath's father was a German emigre has to be considered an important factor in her decision to remember him through the prism of the German nation's -- and the world's -- most despicable act of mass murder. Otto Plath's death when Sylvia was only eight years old meant that the impression he had on a very young child was the one that would remain embedded in her consciousness for the remainder of her life:
"Daddy, I have had to kill you. You died before I had time -- Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, Gahstly statue with one gray toe Big as a Frisco seal."
If Otto Plath was a cold, distant, emotionally remote father, then his German heritage, and the fact of Plath's brief life with him coinciding with the rise of Hitler and the early phase of the Second World War, would explain the extensive use of the Holocaust as a metaphor for their "dictator/victim" relationship:
"I thought every German was you. And the language obscene [Otto taught German, as well as biology]. An engine, an engine, Chuffing me off like a Jew. A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. I began to talk like a Jew. I think I may well be a Jew."
"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 --"
Sylvia Plath seems to regret the life she never had with her father, but can't separate out the image she had of him, within the context of the rise of Nazi Germany, from a daughter's sadness over the loss of her father at so young an age. The use of Holocaust imagery seems to come very much from Plath's heart. There seemed to be a conflict with which she struggled thoughout her life, with the loss of "daddy" competing for her soul with an image of Otto Plath as not dissimilar to the Germans who wrecked havoc on much of the world. It is a struggle experienced by many offspring of actual German Nazis: children who grew up in cosmopolitan West Germany discovering that their fathers served Hitler's cause. That "Daddy" was written only months before Sylvia Plath committed suicide lends credence to those who see "Daddy" as a final goodbye to her father.
"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."
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