What are the tones and attitudes in Sylvia Plath's "Daddy"? 

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tone in this poem is abrasive, discordant, brutal, yet also petulant. It is a very disturbed and disturbing portrayal of a father and daughter relationship; a relationship wholly divested, it appears, of any kind of human warmth. The attitude of the poet is that, as a daughter, she feels like a victim. She pours out a stream of abuse upon the father, using dark imagery of Nazism and vampirism to portray his character. Her voice comes across not only as ranting but also positively childish at times, with words like 'Achoo' and 'gobbledygoo', and a repetitive, almost banal rhyme ending in the vowel sound '-oo' which occurs in most lines of almost every verse and takes on, perhaps, the insistently simplistic air of a nursery-rhyme.

At times, too, the speaker's voice becomes almost inarticulate with her pent-up bitterness and rage, for instance descending into the repeated word 'ich' in stanza 6 - the German word for 'I'. This sound repeats four times in one line almost like the repeating sound of gunfire, which merges in with the imagery of Nazism and war, with references to 'barb wire' and 'Aryan', 'Panzer-man' and so on. She also continually addresses her father as 'Daddy' which of course is also the title of the poem. This is a deceptively familiar, innocent-sounding form of address, which a loving child might use for her parent; but in this case the child appears almost completely overcome with negative emotions for the father. There is no formality, no trace of respect; she speaks to him now, in her mind, without any kind of constraint, in the way that she pleases.

The poem, then, paints quite a frightening picture of a wholly oppressive family relationship through its use of disturbing imagery and harsh diction. The daughter appears to have felt so constricted by her father that at the beginning she likens herself to a mere foot living in his ‘black shoe’. It seems she is struggling to liberate herself from his malign influence throughout the poem and declares at the end, with a final imprecation: 'Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through’. This does not really provide a sense of closure, however. It may well be that he is finally dead to her - as underlined in the penultimate stanza with the image of him as a vampire finally contained with the proverbial stake through his heart. However, the bitter anguish of the poem never lets up. It is probably more accurate to say, then, that she never will quite escape: she may be rid of her father’s physical presence, and she may try to convince herself that she’s escaped him emotionally also, but the tone, which remains utterly scathing to the end, suggests otherwise.