Negative Familial Relationships in “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath
What does it mean to have a bad family relationship? How does such hatred originate? This topic is addressed in the poem “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath. On the surface, Plath’s poem is about the author’s hatred for her father. She goes so far as to call him a bastard and even Hitler without giving reason or explanation. All familial relationships are different and can come in many forms. Bad relationships with family members especially can be rooted in different things and can have different effects on people. The source of these issues and where and how the originate is important. In “Daddy”, Sylvia Plath writes about her own relationship with her father and how she feels about him. But if you dig deeper into the poem you can see why Plath feels this way and why she writes these things about her father. Plath, in the poem, goes into the root of her issues with her father. Through her use of comparison, diction, and poetic turn in her poem, “Daddy”, Sylvia Plath conveys her hatred of her father and how it is rooted in the fact that he died when she was a young child.
This poem brings up questions about Plath and her relationship with her father. Throughout the poem Plath writes about killing her father and calls him Hitler. I am wondering why she does this and what he did to make her do this. The poem doesn’t really go into this because it is more about her thoughts and feelings towards her father than what he did to make her think and feel those things. But through analyzing the poem as well researching Plath herself, I was able to further interpret the poem to understand the source for Plath’s hatred for her father.
One way that Plath shows her hatred for her father is through her use of comparison in the poem. Comparison is defined as the representing of one thing or person as similar to or like another. In “Daddy” a big comparison is when she is talking about herself and her father. In the ninth stanza Plath writes,
“I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.”
In this stanza Plath compares her father to an aryan man who by description is most likely Hitler. Comparing her father to Hitler is a motif throughout the poem. The fact that Plath compares her father to Hitler shows her hatred for him as Hitler is one of the most notoriously hated people in history and using him as a metaphor for her father’s behavior is showing how she hates him. Plath in comparing her father to Hitler, is expressing intense hatred towards him which is furthered by another use of comparison, another motif throughout the poem is Plath comparing herself to a Jew, evidence of this is in the seventh stanza where she writes,
“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.”
When Plath compares herself to a Jew it is a metaphor for how she felt her father treated her. In the poem Sylvia Plath says that her father is like hitler and she is like a holocaust era Jew as shown by references to concentration camps. Plath is therefore comparing her relationship with her father to the holocaust, a genocidal event, when millions were killed by the Nazis because of who they were and identified as. This proves that Plath conveys her hatred for her father in the poem because Nazis and Jews were hostile towards one another and that is how she felt about her father. Literary theorist Robert Phillips wrote about the poem that “By making him a Nazi and herself a Jew, she dramatizes the war in her soul.” This proves that Plath used comparison in her poem to show her hatred for her father. She uses these comparisons to express the war she feels between herself and her father. That is how Plath uses comparison in her poem “Daddy” to convey her hatred for her father.
Another way Plath shows her hatred for her father in the poem is her use of diction. Diction is defined as the choice and use of words and phrases in speech or writing. One way Plath uses diction to convey her feelings about her father is in the last line of the poem where she says,
“Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”
This shows her hatred for her father because she calls him a bastard, which is an insult and then says she is done with him. This shows how Plath hates her father and the fact that the poem ends with it shows that hatred is a theme throughout the entire poem. According to theorist Paul Breslin, “Not only does the tone of ‘Daddy’ veer precipitously between the luridly sinister and the self-deprecatingly clever, there are places where Plath’s technical competence simply deserts her.” This talks abouts Plath’s use of diction and tone and how it is used to convey hatred throughout the poem. Another use of diction to indicate her hatred for her father and where such loathing comes from is in the second stanza where Plath writes,
“You died before I had time—”
This shows why Plath hates her father because according to an article published on The Guardian website, “Although Otto died in 1940 when his daughter was eight, he exerted a lifelong hold on her, inspiring her bitter tirade against him in her famous 1962 poem Daddy.” Sylvia Plath’s father, Otto Plath died when Sylvia Plath was only seven years old. This information brings meaning to the poem in that you now realize that Plath’s hatred of her father stems from the fact that he died when she was young. Another mention of her father’s death when she was a child is in the second to last stanza when Plath writes,
“Seven years, if you want to know.”
This is referring to how Plath’s father died when she was only seven years old. This shows how Sylvia Plath in her poem “Daddy” uses diction to convey her hatred of her father and how it is because of his death when she was a child.
Plath also shows her hatred of her father through her use of poetic turn. Poetic turn or volta is the turn of thought or argument in the poem. Plath uses this literary technique several times in the poem. One of the times is in the seventh stanza where Plath writes,
“I think I may well be a Jew.”
This is a poetic turn because it is the first time she mentions her feeling like and comparing herself to a Jew which is a big turn from the stanzas before it. Another poetic turn is in the tenth stanza where Plath said the line,
“Not God but a swastika”
This turn is when she first directly mentions the holocaust which she uses as a metaphor to convey her hatred for her father. Literary theorists Guinevara A. Nance and Judith P. Jones, “The turning point in the poem and in the speaker’s efforts to purge herself of the psychological significance of the father image occurs in the following stanza:
‘But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you.’”
This shows how Plath utilized poetic turns in her poem to prove her point. She used this literary device of poetic turn in the poem to convey her hatred for her father.
Another interpretation of “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath is that the poem was spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. An Electra complex is the female version of Freud’s Oedipus complex. It means that a daughter perceives her mother as a rival for the psychosexual energy of her father, and wants to possess the father. This unresolved desire sometimes manifests as negative fixation on the father or father figure. This is what a lot of people believe drove Plath’s hatred for her father and why she wrote the poem. According to an owlcation analysis of the poem on the website, “During the course of the poem, the speaker’s goal shifts from an attempt to recover, reunite with, and marry her dead father to an attempt to kill his memory and terminate his dominance over her.” This Electra complex caused plath to hate her father and put it in the poem. Plath herself also said that the speaker in the poem is “a girl with an Electra complex whose father died while she thought he was God.” This furthers my thought that she hated him because this complex causes people to have hatred for their parents. According to literary theorist Charles Molesworth, “When I speak of Plath’s concealment I want to stress the counterforce of her confessional impulses, of the part of her poetic temperament that makes her turn a poem about the hatefulness of her father into a quasi ritual, a Freudian initiation into the circlings we create around our darkest secrets.” Molesworth mentions the freudian psychology of the poem and how it is caused by Plath’s feelings towards her father. This is similar to the ideas surrounding her Electra complex. That is why Sylvia Plath says what she does about her father and the hatred she feels towards him in her poem “Daddy.
In her poem “Daddy” Sylvia Plath conveys her hatred towards her father and how it is rooted in him dying when she was young and furthered by an assumed Electra complex. Plath throughout her poem, used different literary techniques, such as comparison, diction, and poetic turn, to show her thoughts and feelings about her father. This hatred drove Plath to write this poem and it is what caused her to write these things about her father. She had a bad relationship with her father. That is how Sylvia Plath in her poem “Daddy” conveys her hatred for her father and how it is rooted in his early death as well as Plath’s own psychology.
Plath, Sylvia. “Daddy by Sylvia Plath.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48999/daddy-56d22aafa45b2.
On "Daddy", www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/plath/daddy.htm.
“Robert Phillips: On ‘Daddy.’” Robert Phillips: On "Daddy" | Modern American Poetry, www.modernamericanpoetry.org/criticism/robert-phillips-daddy.
“Paul Breslin: On ‘Daddy.’” Paul Breslin: On "Daddy" | Modern American Poetry, www.modernamericanpoetry.org/criticism/paul-breslin-daddy.
Nance, Guinevara A., and Judith P. Jones. On "Daddy", www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/plath/daddy.htm.
Molesworth, Charles. “On ‘Daddy.’” Charles Molesworth: On "Daddy" | Modern American Poetry, www.modernamericanpoetry.org/criticism/charles-molesworth-daddy.
Spacey, Andrew. “Analysis of Poem ‘Daddy’ by Sylvia Plath.” Owlcation, Owlcation, 1 Mar. 2019, owlcation.com/humanities/Analysis-of-Poem-Daddy-by-Sylvia-Plath.
Alberge, Dalya. “FBI Files on Sylvia Plath's Father Shed New Light on Poet.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 17 Aug. 2012, www.theguardian.com/books/2012/aug/17/sylvia-plath-otto-father-files.