Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“Daddy” has an ironically affectionate title, for this poem is a violent, discordant attack on the dead parent. One of the poems Plath wrote in the feverishly active last six months of her life, “Daddy” is a reworking of the evil-father theme so prominent in her poems. Because her father died when he still had mythic power to the child, the woman must deflate and exorcise the father figure somehow. She must go through a symbolic killing of the powerful ghost in order to be free.
In contrast to the subtle rhythms of her earlier work, this poem’s movement is direct and obvious. It uses harsh, insistent rhyme to hammer its message home. Its banging, jangling rhythms unnerve the reader and lodge in the mind. It relies on one repeated rhyme, an “oo” sound that becomes a cry of pain. Read aloud, the poem sounds like a chant, a ritual chant of exorcism and purification. In this poem and some others, Plath seems to be using words for their apotropaic value—as charms to ward off evil.
A series of metaphors presents the relationship between father and daughter in graphically negative terms. Progressively throughout the poem, he is a “black shoe” in which she has “lived like a foot” for thirty years; he is a Nazi and she a Jew; he is a devil and she his victim; he is a vampire who drinks her blood. The vampire and the victim are perhaps the most telling images, for she sees him as a dead man draining her living blood, calling from...
(The entire section is 533 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Daddy Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Overview (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Written on October 12, 1962, four months before her suicide, Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” is a “confessional” poem of eighty lines divided into sixteen five-line stanzas. The persona, a daughter speaking in the first person, seeks to resolve the manifold conflicts with her father and paternal authority that have dogged her life. Her readiness for the task is unambiguously evident in the first stanza’s opening lines: “You do not do, You do not do/ Anymore.”
“Daddy,” begins the second stanza, “I have had to kill you.” The deceased, titanic patriarch, first represented as “Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,” has his godliness immediately modified when he is referred to as a “Ghastly statue,” with that phrase’s related intimations of corpses and ghosts. The death of her father, an awesome figure with “one gray toe/ Big as a Frisco seal” and “A head in the freakish Atlantic,” had not daunted the speaker’s hopes of reunion; as she puts it in the third stanza, “I used to pray to recover you./ Ach du.” Her belief in the power of prayer is, however, a thing of the past, no longer tenable.
The father’s European roots—he is imaged as a Nazi in the fourth stanza—prove elusive to the speaker, a relatively unimportant handicap, given the significant affliction she discovers in the fifth stanza: “I never could talk to you./ The tongue stuck in my jaw.” A less circumscribed and more dire speechlessness emerges...
(The entire section is 1427 words.)