“Daddy” is a poem by Sylvia Plath that examines the speaker’s complicated relationship with her father.
- The speaker’s father died when she was ten, before she had time to reduce him from a larger-than-life figure to a mere human being. Consequently, the speaker has “had to kill” her father.
- The speaker compares herself to a Jew struggling against a Nazi. Nevertheless, the speaker feels an enduring connection to her father and at twenty attempted suicide to “get back, back, back” to him.
- In the poem’s final line, the speaker declares, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”
Last Updated on December 7, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 881
Plath's “Daddy” is an extended apostrophe to a father figure whom the speaker hates and upon whom she is obsessively fixated.
The poem consists of sixteen five-line stanzas with varying rhyme and metrical schemes. While it is a declaration of intense and brutally honest feelings, it is also a contextualization of a personal story within recent history, specifically that of World War II and Nazi Germany.
The speaker begins by likening her father to an old shoe in which she has lived for thirty years and in which her behavior has been stifled and constricted. She has “barely dar[ed] to breathe” or sneeze. She needed to kill this father figure, she asserts, but he died before she was able to. The father is a symbol of divinity, a “bag full of God,” a “ghastly” statue whose toe is the size of one of the seals of San Francisco, on the Pacific Ocean, and whose head she sees emerging from the Atlantic. An allusion to “beautiful Nauset” places the image of the statue’s head off of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
The juxtaposition of attraction and repulsion is heightened beginning in the third stanza. The father figure is dead, but the speaker has prayed to have him restored to her. He is also German and associated in the speaker's mind with World War II. She utters disconnected bits and pieces of German phrases, exclamations such as “Ach, du” (“Ah, you”) and repetitions of “ich” (“I”). She tries to reconstruct the place of the father's birth, in Germany or Poland, lands devastated by war and “scraped flat by the roller.” The linking of the two countries is an allusion to both the Nazi invasion of Poland and the fact that the war and the settlement after it shifted the borders between them. Much of what had been the eastern part of Germany was given to Poland after the German defeat in 1945. The speaker doesn't have a sure way of knowing where her father was born, whether in Poland or Germany, and of the specific town. The name of his birthplace is known, but she has been told by a Polish friend that there are numerous towns by that name.
When she tried to communicate with her father, she was unable to do so, and the “tongue stuck in [her] jaw . . . in a barb wire snare.” The associations with Germanness are a crippling factor in the image she holds of her father, given that she has identified him with “every German” and regarded the German language as obscene. Fragmentary references are made to the Holocaust, not only to the barbed wire of the concentration camp but to the crematoria. An “engine” is described “chuffing” the speaker off to a camp like Dachau, Auschwitz, or Belsen. The speaker identifies with the Jewish victims and speculates that she herself “might be a Jew.”
Images associated with Germany or Austria, such as the Tyrol region and Vienna beer, are evoked only to be dismissed as not holding the purity they are commonly thought to embody. The speaker refers to one of her female ancestors as a “gipsy” (Roma) and to her own “weird luck” and pack of Tarot cards, again speculating that she might have Jewish ancestry. The father figure is equated with the military, with war, and with Nazism, with the speaker referring to his “Luftwaffe” (the Nazi air force) and his “Aryan eye.” He is associated with the “panzer” (tank) and is “Not God but a swastika.”
The speaker also confesses an apparent attraction to the negative, brutal aspects of the father’s character: “Every woman adores a fascist / The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you.” She recalls him in life as a man standing at a blackboard, with a cleft chin rather than the cleft foot of a devil. And yet, with his death, he destroyed her, biting “her heart in two.” The speaker's goal was somehow to reunite with her father by trying to die at the age of twenty, ten years after his death, but she was brought back, saved from death by being pulled out of a sack.
In this rescue from death, she alludes to herself as having been patched together with glue. Then, she says, she tried to recreate the father, producing a “model” of him resembling Hitler. The replicant of her father is a man in black who has “a love of the rack and the screw,” instruments of torture. To this new man, she says, “I do,” and with her avowal comes a kind of consummation regarding the father. The speaker regards herself as having killed both her father and the second man, a doppelganger of him, a “vampire” who drank her blood for a year, or seven years.
The father himself is likened to a vampire lying dead with a stake in his “fat, black” heart. He was hated by the “villagers” who are now dancing upon his grave and “always knew it was you”—in other words, that he was the vampire inflicted upon them. Having finished the account of her father, herself, and her relationship with him—as well as the figure of him she has recreated--the speaker closes by saying, “Daddy, you bastard, I'm through.”