Briefly Explain "The Colossus" and "Daddy" written by Sylvia Plath.

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both "The Colossus" and "Daddy" show Sylvia Plath attempting to deconstruct her father and remove the power he's held over her, despite being long dead.

"The Colossus" is titled with a reference to a Greek statue, the Colossus of Rhodes, which was destroyed by an earthquake more than 2000 years ago. Like the giant statue, her father is a broken memory to Plath's speaker; he looms large in her head, though she can't truly understand him. 

Plath writes, "Thirty years now I have labored / to dredge the silt from your throat. / I am none the wiser." The speaker hasn't been able to understand him and hasn't been able to come to terms with him. Despite "scaling little ladders with glue pots and pails of lysol," she isn't able to fix what's broken.

The end of the poem doesn't demonstrate freedom from the speaker's father and the overwhelming presence he once had. Rather Plath writes, "My hours are married to shadow. / No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel / in the blank stones of the landing." She is unable to break free from him entirely and accepts this.

"Daddy" is still about Plath's father, but the poem reaches a different conclusion. Instead of trying to piece him back together, the speaker spends the poem preoccupied with his death and with killing the father that looms in her consciousness.

She explains that "I used to pray to recover you," but things have changed now. She doesn't want to be the girl putting the statue of her father back together. Rather, she wants to be free of his memory and the negative aspects of their relationship. She imagines her father as a Nazi and herself as a Jewish person.

In "Daddy," Plath's speaker says, "I have always been scared of you" and says he "bit [her] pretty red heart in two." Still, she insists that her suicide attempt was an effort to get back to him—but she survived, and they "stuck [her] together with glue." She changes after the attempt.

With the last stanza, the speaker breaks free from her preoccupation with understanding and coming to terms with her father, saying:

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.
Unlike "The Colossus," "Daddy" represents an older Plath who is able to successfully move away from the figure her father represents in her mind. Though she'd made a model of him, she both loved and hated him—and the only way to escape that was to metaphorically kill him.
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both of these incredible poems take the subject of Plath's relationship with her father, who died when she was eight. "The Colossus" is much tamer in its presentation of her father compared to "Daddy," as we will discover. The title of this poem immediately makes us think of the Ancient Greeks and one of the seven wonders of the world, whilst also indicating the immensity of the topic for the poet. The poem begins with Plath trying to communicate with her father through poetry. The way that her father is still such an important figure to her is made clear by the way that the speaker says her "hours are married to shadow." In trying to piece together the various remnants of her father's presence, she clearly wants to enjoy a relationship with him again and to hear his words of widsom and consolation. Yet at the same time, the poem begins by recognising the way that this is an impossible task:

I shall never get you put together entirely,

Pieced, glued, and properly jointed.

Some critics have pointed towards the way that the father literally lies in pieces throughout the poem as suggesting a profound ambivalence concerning the poet's feeling for her father. She seems to want to become reunited with him, but the way he is strewn around the stanzas perhaps indicate anger at some level for having left her when she was so young.

If "The Colossus" is ambivalent, it is obvious that there is no such ambivalence in "Daddy" regarding the speaker's father. This poem treats the father figure as one to be feared and that needs to be raged against, as is shown by the controversial way Plath equates him with a Nazi:

I have always been scared of you,

With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.

And your neat moustache,

And your Aryan eye, bright blue.

The poem seems to represent the daughter's awareness of the unhealthy fascination she has had with her father and the negative consequences of such an obsession. This poem is her attempt to escape all of this and move on in her life. Thus it is that this poem resurrects her father in some kind of tremendous emotional rollercoaster, where the speaker is able to address him and express her frustration and anger at the way that his figure has curtailed her life even after his death. The final line of the poem, "Daddy, you bastard, I'm through," indicates the end of this tirade and hopefully the speaker's success in moving on in life.

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