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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Speaker

The speaker of the poem is defined, in large part, by her relationship to her father, symbolically represented by the statue of the eponymous Colossus. In the poem, the speaker tries to make sense of her father, but she laments that she "shall never get [him] together entirely." She says that she has "labored" for thirty years, all the while "in mourning," trying to piece together an understanding of her father.

The speaker seems to have an ambivalent attitude towards her father. She has been caring for him, or for his memory, for thirty years. She describes how she has scaled ladders "with glue pots and pails of Lysol" to clean and fix the statue and thus to nurture and repair the father that exists in her memory. However, she also seems to attack what she interprets as her father's arrogance and stubborn silence. She mockingly suggests to her father that "Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle . . . or some God or other."

The speaker seems throughout the poem to be frustrated that she can no longer hear from her father. The implication is that she needs to hear from him in order to better understand him, and without this better understanding, she will never be able to be at peace. Indeed, she says that her "hours are married to shadow," the implication being that her life is cold and dark in the figurative shadow cast by her father. She cannot escape that shadow, at least not until she feels like she has an understanding or knowledge of the person who casts it.

This poem was first published in 1960, when Sylvia Plath was 27 or 28 years old. Her father died in 1940. In much of Plath's writing, she tries to reconnect with her dead father. With this in mind, it is likely that the speaker in this poem is an autobiographical representation of Plath herself.

The Colossus

The Colossus was a statue from the ancient world. It was a statue of Helios, the Greek sun god, and was said to have stood at almost one hundred feet tall before being destroyed by an earthquake. In this poem, Plath uses the statue as a symbol for her deceased father. The statue, like her father, is mute and emotionless.

When the speaker says that she has tried for thirty years to "dredge the silt from (the statue's) throat," she suggests that she has been trying all of her life to understand her father and perhaps to decipher what she remembers of his voice.

From the speaker's perspective, the father is characterized by a degree of arrogance. He is also, however, a god-like figure in that his presence in the speaker's life is omnipresent and in some ways omnipotent. This is reflected in the aforementioned quote (". . . some God or other") as well as in Plath's choice of the statue of Colossus to represent her father. Just as her father still casts a huge shadow over her life, so too the statue must have cast a huge shadow over the land.

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