What is the tone used by Sylvia Plath in "Daddy"?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Daddy” by Sylvia Plath was written after her separation from husband poet, Ted Hughes, who left her for another woman.  Furthermore, it was not long before her suicide in 1963.  Obviously, Plath was not in a good place psychologically or emotionally.  This is a disquieting, yet well-written poem from a woman who has lost her father and her husband. 

Plath’s situation grew worse as she was left to care for their children by herself in the dead of winter. Already having attempted suicide more than once, Plath finally succeeded while her children slept in the apartment. Thankfully, she blocked the doors so that the gas which Plath used to kill herself would not disturb the children.

Her father, a German immigrant, had been a German professor. Suffering from diabetes, one of his legs had to be amputated;  he died from complications. Plath was eight years old. Her references to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust indicate Plath’s feelings of subjugation from a powerful male figure.

“Daddy” is a rather long poem free verse poem which means that there is no set pattern for rhythm or rhyme.  There are 16 quatrains breaking up the thoughts in the poem. At times, Plath’s poem takes on a seemingly playful tone with its language.  Do not be deceived because this poem is serious in tone and meaning. Moreover, the atmosphere is bitter and angry.  She holds little back in her declaration of disdain for the men in her life. Her themes include life, death, depression, war.  This is no loving tribute to a dear departed father.  Because of her choice of words, the impact becomes much stronger and more shocking.

Bit my pretty red heart in two.

I was ten when they buried you.

At twenty I tried to die

And get back, back, back to you 

Plath utilized a first person point of view with a speaker who seems to know everything about the situation with her men.  Making herself into a character in the poem, she exposes her hurt and anger toward them.  The poem purports that her father was a Nazi and a vampire.  Obviously, neither was true. 

The poem reflects how Plath felt at the time she was writing. We do understand that she was miserable in her life.  Her father was lost to her when she was so young; she has suffered for much of her life longing for that relationship with him.

“Daddy” is a representation of Plath’s feeling toward men in general.  She wanted to die because of them. In fact, when her husband leaves her, she actually does.