Sylvia Plath was an American poet and novelist, but also a mother, teacher and wife (Plath, p.2). She was born in Boston Massachusetts on October 27, 1932 (Ibid, p.2). Her mother Aurelia Schober Plath was a first generation American of Austrian descent. Her father Otto Emile Plath was an immigrant from Grabow, Germany (Ibid.). Sylvia Plath’s father died of complications of diabetes on November 1940 a month after her eighth birthday (Wikipedia.org/Sylvia Plath). Sylvia Plath’s father was not a German Nazi, as readers of the poem “Daddy” are made to believe. Otto Plath was a distinguished professor of biology and German language at Boston University (Plath, p.3). He was known throughout the world as an authority on bees as well (Ibid.).
In Sylvia Plath’s poem titled Daddy, a theory exists the poet speaker is addressing both her dead father, but for the most part her husband and father figure, English poet Ted Hughes. To understand this theory, one must recall the meaning of the Oedipus complex as well as the Electra complex.
The Oedipus complex is defined as a transition in a male child’s life, where the child has a psychological desire to sleep with the mother and kill the father (From Sigmund Freud). The Electra complex, on the other hand, states that a female child has a romantic desire toward the father and rejection of the mother. Psychologically, as an adult, the female looks for a husband that provides the father figure for her; that is, a man that will takes over all the roles of the real father (From Sigmund Freud).
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The poem Daddy by Sylvia Plath is a fantasy poem rebuking not her dead father but the father figure in her husband Ted Hughes. The poem, Daddy, was written on October 12, 1962 before Sylvia Plath committed suicide (Wikipedia). Almost all of Sylvia Plath’s poems were written during the second part of the feminist struggle of the 60s and 70s (Wikipedia.org/Feminism). The poem was posthumously published in a collection of poems under the heading of “Ariel,” which was submitted with a Forward by her daughter Frieda Hughes Plath (Plath, p. 16). That collection of poems contained in the “Ariel” collection made Sylvia Plath a household name (Ibid.). In her poem “Daddy,” Plath uses the Holocaust as a pivot point to rebuke her husband and father figure, and laments her father who died when she was eight years old.
Listening to Sylvia Plath read her own poem Daddy, the listener detects a child’s tone filled with considerate, unselfish love and affection when she reads and pronounces the word “Daddy.” The listener also detects the difference in tone when she recites the rest of the lines in the poem. The tone is more harsh and filled with hate, rage and anger (YouTube, http://www.youtube.com).
The form of the poem is Free Verse with sixteen Cinquain stanzas. The poem also contains intermittent iambic verse throughout with no continuous pattern. The use of metaphors, symbolism and similes, throughout the stanzas gives the poem a semblance of balance. The entire poem in itself, however, is a metaphor. The speaker uses the first person descriptive voice. The theme of the poem is feminist in nature; that is, a female persona climbing to freedom from dominance of the father figure. She desires to be free from male domination, authority and control in order to be able to have the right to be her own persona. The mood of the poem is conversational (Aird, p. 82).
The poem does not follow a rhyming scheme, but it does follow a nursery rhyming type of sound throughout the poem. In addition, a rhyme “oo” sound is predominant on the first Cinquain stanza as well as on the last stanza of the poem (Strand and Boland, pp. 274-276, Lines 1-5 and 76-80). Examples of internal rhyme are in lines, 1, 23, 49 and 50.
An example of alliteration exists in line 49. There are various repetitions in this poem as follows: You do not do, you do not do (Ibid. Line 1), Of wars, wars, wars. (Line 18), Ich, ich, ich, ich, (Ibid. Line 27 which means I want to, I want to). In addition, An engine, an engine (Ibid. Line 31), And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack (Ibid. Line 39), Panzer-man, panzer-man, O Youââ‚¬” (Ibid. Line 45) And get back, back, back to you, (Ibid. Line 59). Also Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through. (Ibid. Line 80)
The speaker used figurative language throughout the poem. In addition, there are several similes in (Ibid. Lines 3, 32, and 34). The speaker uses hyperbole in lines 6, 11, 12, 49, 62, 69, 72, 73 and 76. Figurative language as an apostrophe is included in lines, 8, 9, 10, 46, 70, and 72. In addition, personification is included in lines 8, 10, 11, 36, 37, 46, 54, 62, 70, and 72. The imagery used by the speaker is relevant to sight, sound and touch, and it is void of smell and taste. The imagery of sound is present in lines 5, 16, 28, 34, 67, and 70. The imagery of sight is present in lines 8, 12, 13, 17, 18, 32, 36, 43, 44, 52, 57, 61, and 76. The touch imagery is present in lines 25, 26, 62, and 78.
In the first stanza of the poem “Daddy,” Plath opens the poem with the affirmation that she no longer accepts the hurtful marriage by saying, You do not do, you do not do (Strand and Boland, pp. 274-276, Line 1). She further claims that she will no longer be bound to the darkness and forlornness of her father figure husband by saying, Any more, black shoe / In which I have lived like a foot (Ibid. Lines 2-3). She feels she has been held captive in a marriage that has gone sour and she has had enough. She agrees to divorce her husband and as a result, she is not restricted to the confines of a bad marriage. Even though she faces economic difficulties, it does not matter since she had been under those circumstances before as she says, “For thirty years, poor and white.” (Ibid. Line 4)
In the second stanza, Sylvia Plath decides to accept her father’s death. She claims he had died before she had a chance to show her love for him (Ibid. Line 7). Her father’s dead body was placed, perhaps, in a body bag as she remembers; was heavy and filled with kindness, goodness and love as she says, “Marble-heavy, a bag full of God.” (Ibid. Line 8) In the third stanza, she remembers the place where her father was placed after his death. She had hopes her father would come back to her as she proclaims, “I used to pray to recover you.” (Ibid. Line 14), and she cries aloud, “Ach, du.” (Ibid. Line 15) hoping for her wish to come true.
In the fifth stanza, Sylvia Plath refers to the many extramarital affairs her husband and father figure had. She is not sure who he loves, but she does not confront him since the thought of it was perhaps more hurtful than the action itself. In the sixth stanza, she makes a vivid portrayal of her suffering from her painful marriage and father figure by fantasizing of being “ââ‚¬Â¦stuck in a barb wire snare.” (Ibid. Line 26)
In the seventh stanza, Sylvia Plath feels her father figure pushed her away as if an engine that has drove her to the brim of her fantasy of being a Jew persecuted by the German Nazis. “An engine, an engine // Chuffing me off like a Jew.” (Ibid. Lines 31 and 32) The circumstance surrounding her unhappy marriage makes her compare herself to a Jew being sent to the first Nazi concentration camp (Wikipedia.org/ Dachau concentration camp), or to the extermination camp in Auschwitz (http://en.wikipedia.org /Auschwitz concentration camp). The least she could expect from her father figure, was to be sent to the Nazi Belsen concentration camp to be exchanged for German prisoners of war held (http://en.wikipedia.org /Bergen-Belsen concentration camp) overseas.
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In the eighth stanza, Sylvia Plath considers herself an Aryan Gypsy which in “ââ‚¬Â¦the Nazi minds there were contradictions between what they regarded as the superiority of the Aryan race and their image of the Gypsies… Like the Jews, Gypsies were singled out by the Nazis for racial persecution and annihilation.” (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org). Sylvia Plath enhances her belief of bad luck and the fantasy of being an Aryan Gypsy by mentioning the Taroc game cards as she says, And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack / I may be a bit of a Jew. (Strand and Boland, pp. 274-276, Lines 39 and 40) She mentions the Taroc pack twice, once to reference her destiny of her bad luck with her husband and the second to reference the destiny of bad luck with her father figure. Regardless, she still considers herself “ââ‚¬Â¦a bit of a Jew.” (Ibid. Line 40)
In stanza nine and ten, she compares her husband and father figure to Adolf Hitler, With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygook. / And your neat mustache / And your Aryan eye, bright blue. // Not God but a swastika / So black no sky could squeak through. / Every woman adores a Fascist, / The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you. // (Ibid. Lines 42-50) There is a correlation between the figure of Adolf Hitler and her husband and father figure whom also had extramarital dealings with other women. In addition, Ted Hughes was over six feet tall and always dressed himself from head to toe in black (Ted Hughes: An Introduction, Ann Skea).
In stanza eleven, the symbolism for blackboard stands for dualism. On the one hand, Sylvia Plath sees her loving and missed father and on the other, she sees her father figure and husband. She sees her father as having a cleft in his chin instead of his foot. On the other hand, the dual figure she sees is that of her husband and father figure having a cleft in his foot much as a devil has. The eleventh stanza states, You stand at the blackboard, daddy, / In the picture I have of you, / A cleft in your chin instead of your foot / But no less a devil for that, no not / Any less the black man who // (Strand and Boland, pp. 274-276, Lines 51-55). She continues addressing her husband and father figure in stanza twelfth by saying, “Bit my pretty red heart in two. /” (Ibid. Line 56).
Also in the twelfth stanza, Sylvia Plath claims she was ten years old when her father died. Several years later, she tried to commit suicide but was unsuccessful. She had hoped to be back with him and would have been satisfied even if there were no flesh left in his bones. She says in part, I was ten when they buried you. / At twenty I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you. / I thought even the bones would do. // (Ibid. Lines 57-60) In stanza thirteen Sylvia Plath refers to the failed attempt at suicide. She claims they were able to save her and thereafter she decides to make a model of her father; her father figure as she says, 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, / A man in black with a Meinkapmf look // (Ibid. Lines 61-65)
In stanza fourteenth, she refers to the rack as the wedding bed and having sex with her father figure after she accepted the marriage vows. Later she realizes the marriage is not working and agrees to dissolve the marriage. She decides not to agree to any calls for reconciliation, and refuses to listen to any communications coming from her father figure. She confesses to her father that her life is over with her father figure as she says in the fourteenth stanza, And a love of the rack and the screw. / And I said I do, I do. / So daddy, I’m finally through. / The black telephone’ off the root, / The voices just can’t worm through. // (Ibid. Lines 66-70)
Stanza fifteenth is an affirmation that Sylvia Plath has accepted the departure from her marriage from her father figure much as she has accepted the death of her father. Sylvia Plath says, “If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two–” (Ibid. Line 71). She refers to the father figure as a vampire whom has drained her life’s happiness for the seven years she was married to her husband and father figure. She says, The vampire who said he was you / And drank my blood for a year, / Seven years, if you want to know. / (Ibid. Lines72-74) In the last line of the fifteenth stanza, she tells her father he can now rest in peace, “Daddy, you can lie back now.” (Ibid. Line 75)
In the sixteenth and last stanza, Sylvia Plath continues with her fantasy and is able to get rid of the vampire father figure, “There’s a stake in your fat black heart” (Ibid. Line 76). Sylvia Plath comes to a certain end in her life and tells her father people did not like her father figure. People knew the father figure was to blame for her failures by saying, And the villagers never liked you. / They always knew it was you. / Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through. // (Ibid. Lines 77-80) It is important to notice the uppercase ‘D’ when she addresses her father and the lowercase ‘d’ when she addresses her father figure. (Ibid. Line 80)
Sylvia Plath continued her fantasy of being persecuted as a Jew by the German Nazis, and in particular by her father figure, to the end of her life. In her poem “Lady Lazarus”, she mentions the many times she tried to commit suicide, but was not successful. Before the first publication of the novel “The Bell Jar,” Sylvia Plath carried with her to the end of her life, a correlation of being a persecuted Jew by her father figure. She committed suicide by turning the gas on in the oven of the house and ‘symbolically’ placed her head inside the oven. She succeeds in killing herself on the 11th day of February 1963 (Aird, p. 13). Sylvia Plath was thirty years old (Ibid). Before carrying out her suicide, she placed a large bottle of milk in each of her children’s cribs and covered the bottom of the door leading to the children’s room with wet towels. The wet towel would prevent the gas from seeping into their room and keeping them from dying as well (wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia Plath). The next day an inquiry ruled her death was a suicide (Ibid).
In her novel, “The Bell Jar,” which was first published under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas, Sylvia Plath tells in a semiautobiographical story about her unhappiness. The novel enumerates the various conflicts in her life including her complex mental illness. Even today, Sylvia Plath has many fans. The gravestone, which bears her name, is found in Heptonstall churchyard in England (Wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia Plath # cite note). Some of Plath’s supporters who have chiseled the name “Hughes” off it have repeatedly vandalized it. This practice intensified following the suicide in 1969 of Assia Wevill, the woman for whom Ted Hughes left Plath, which led to claims Hughes had been abusive toward Plath (Ibid). Ted Hughes died October 28, 1998 (Skea, Ann); it seems to be ironic, and perhaps symbolic that Ted Hughes died sixty-six years later and a day before Sylvia Plath birthday of October 27. According to “[The] Dictionary of Literary Symbols,” the number 666 is considered an imperfect number and the famous number of the beast; that is, the devil (Ferber, p.141).
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