As a poet Sylivia Plath has been renowned for her style of writing and the power she evokes from her ideas in her poems. The themes of her poems tend to be of a negative nature with war, death and the problem of patriarchal societies as such topics. One of Plath’s most famous pieces of poetry is Daddy. The poem focuses on Plath’s father, a man who left her at an early age resulting in a burning hatred on her behalf for him. Daddy is an example of Plath’s dark and gloomy work and also displays her common poetic devices of vivid imagery, metaphors, similes and irregularity throughout her poems.
Ideally everybody deserves to grow up with two living parents, however Plath was not given this opportunity as her father died when she was only eight. In the poem Daddy, Plath, as the speaker, is having a one-way conversation with her father expressing all her feelings, anguish and how she tried to compensate for his death. The poem itself bares no metaphorical reading, only a literal reading which is broken up into three parts.
A common technique that Plath uses in her poetry is the metaphor. An example of one lies within the first stanza of Daddy.
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Here the persona uses the simile “like a foot” to compare herself to a foot. Metaphorically she is describing how she has had to live her life without her father, entrapped in black sadness like how a foot is tightly enclosed within a shoe. The reader is positioned to see that life can become very grim growing up without an important figure in a person’s life such as their father.
The second part of Daddy deals with World War II, a prominent event in our recent history, but was a negative one as it was filled with destruction, bloodshed and trauma. Firstly to set the scene vivid imagery is used. The phrases “It stuck in a barb wire snare” and ” A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen” paints the picture of the notorious concentration camps of death with barb wire surrounding it. Another example of war imagery is when the persona refers to “Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You-.” These soldiers of the German army were one of the most feared, as they were the men who drove the tanks. Finally the line “So black no sky could squeak through” sums up the overall atmosphere of a war with its dark and gloomy nature. With this example of Plath’s use of imagery, she has been able to develop a picture of war and its horrific nature.
As a race, the Jews arguably went through the most suffering in World War II. Millions fell victim to an attempt of ethnic cleansing ordered by Hitler. However Plath believed her suffering from the loss of her father was just as great as what many Jewish people went through. In the poem the persona uses several similes, a common technique of Plath, in the seventh stanza.
An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
The similes within this stanza position the reader to see the great degree of suffering the speaker went through, as it is compared to the torment and anguish millions went through during World War II and in turn, sympathy is drawn from the reader as everyone deserves to grow up with two living parents.
When the persona describes her father, she again draws upon war imagery in the form of the Nazi soldiers and Hitler himself. The description given is in the ninth stanza.
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat moustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
By comparing her father to Hitler, the speaker creates a parallel in that Hitler was responsible for the lives of so many Jews. In parallel, her father is like Hitler and she is like Jew, hence positioning the reader to see how the speaker believed it was growing up without a father that caused her to live such a disruptive life.
As it is documented, Plath was known to have lived a life of utter misery, one that included suicide attempts and breakdowns for which the major reason she put behind these was the loss of her father. For her mental illness, Plath received treatment which included electro-shock therapy. She describes her treatment in Daddy with another metaphor.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
This metaphor positions the reader to see that although the persona was treated, she was still in a fragile state of mind, one that was only being held together by a weak bond, something as weak as glue.
During these contemporary times, the patriarchal society can be thought of as non-existent, however males still have a slight dominance. Although in the era Plath lived in, male dominance was the norm and she criticised society for this. In the poem, the persona describes her husband as “A man in black with a Meinkampf look.” This reference to Hitler when describing her husband sets up a parallel likened to the one between her father and Hitler positioning the reader to see how the two significant men in the persona’s life led to her downfall. This is further reinforced with the lines “The vampire who said he was you | And drank my blood for a year.” Metaphorically the persona describes how her life was being drained away as a result of a marriage, similar to that of how a vampire drinks the blood of their victims. It is evident that Plath fell victim to the patriarchal society with the two dominant males in her life making life a hell for her as she had to reject both of them saying “I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two.” The persona positions the reader to condemn the notion of the patriarchal society as it is damaging to females who have fallen victim under a male dominance.
Many of Plath’s poems seem to have an irregularity within them, and Daddy is one of those poems. Daddy is not a free flowing poem in that is able to split it up into three separate parts. Also there the rhyming of the ‘oo’ sound evident throughout the poem, however there is no regular pattern of which lines rhyme. These irregularities reinforce the life the persona lived without her father, one that could peak at happiness and then plummet to sadness in a short period of time.
Daddy is indeed a negative poem, one of many dark poems Plath has written. Never the less there is a great amount of power within the poem, a power from which Plath’s feelings of her father have been expressed and one that condemns the patriarchal society. From her use of vivid imagery, metaphors, similes as major poetic devices, Plath has been able to evoke her ideas to readers worldwide.