Analyse the poem "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath

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Analyse the poem “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath

The title “Daddy” evokes images of nurturing fathers, willing to do anything for their children; it suggests innocence and protection. Plath could be using this in a number of different ways. It may be ironic – she uses this word to describe her father because he should have been a model for her, and he was the precise opposite of her ideals. It also suggests a longing for her father to have been this model.  It may relate to the feminist issues at the time Plath wrote “Daddy” – fathers were all believed to be a perfect model for society, and women and daughters who were victims of them were mostly ignored.

The repetition of “you do not do” gives the persona an assertive edge; she is standing up to her father. It also makes her sound a little immature, as though she has to express herself in this way. Indeed, the syntax throughout the poem is stilted, with little complicated vocabulary, giving the persona a childlike quality. Plath writes that she “lived like a foot” in the “shoe” of her father. It implies that her father, as the “shoe”, surrounded her. It could suggest that she could not escape him, and she “wore” him – he was a burden to her. She also writes that in her father’s presence, she is “barely daring to breath” – she is terrified of him. This ties in with the shoe point made earlier – her father seems a tyrant, overbearing and forceful.

The poet describes herself as “poor and white”. At the time of the poem’s writing (1962) the Civil Rights movement was starting to gain momentum. “Poor and white” may be an allusion to the “white trash” of the time. The elitist white people would have nothing to do with them, as they were socially unacceptable, and the black people wouldn’t accept them because they were white (of course, this replies in reverse.) By describing herself this way, Plath suggests that she is unaccepted by much of society because of her father.

The first two lines of the second stanza seem confusing at first glance. “Daddy, I have had to kill you” refers to Plath’s desire to sever her relationship to her father. However, before she was able to do this, her father died, suggesting she never told him her feelings towards him, and was only able to free herself of him (“killing” him in her mind) once he had actually passed away. The “ghastly statue” description refers to one of Plath’s other poems about her father, “The Colossus”, where she thinks of him as a statue she pieces together. The “ghastly” description suggests she now regrets piecing him together – keeping him alive and supporting him. In “Daddy”, the “head” of the statue “pours bean green over blue”, in Plath’s description of the statue in the sea. Bean green is a dirty green colour, suggesting the statue (her father) taints the purity of the blue sea it is travelling through (wherever her father travelled, he tainted the purity of it for her.)

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Plath describes the Polish town as “scraped flat”. The word “scraped”, with the long “a” sound, sounds drawn out and mournful. This, coupled with the harsh “cr” and the plosive “p”, makes the town’s troubles sound never-ending and strained.

Plath sounds, in the fifth stanza, as though she desperately wants to discover her father’s “roots” and therefore her own. This suggests several things about the poet’s wishes. On the one hand, she wishes to uproot herself from her father – she wants to cut herself off from her family tree and be free of him. On the other ...

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

This essay has two great strengths. Firstly it traces the development of the poem without ignoring the difficult parts. Secondly it takes an appropriately tentative approach to discussing dense and sometimes obscure imagery, offering interpretations without being too dogmatic about them. It could be even more improved by considering how repetition, enjambment and irregularities of rhyme and rhythm contribute to the mood of the poem. ****