Sylvia Plath's Daddy
Any attempt to interpret a work of literature by a writer as prolific, as pathological, as tormented and as talented as Sylvia Plath requires a good deal of caution. A lot of Path's work is biographical -- one might successfully argue that the vast majority of the work of virtually any author is biographical to a certain extent. For Plath, however, this association between art and life, poetry and reality, is of particular interest to a number of readers due to her deep rooted depression, the climactic end of her life, and the angst and success she frequently experienced while living. Perhaps the poem that single-handedly addresses all of these fascinating components of Plath's life and work is "Daddy." One of the most notable things about this particular piece is that the author expresses extreme hatred towards a male -- perhaps more than one male -- in this work of literature. Some have claimed that the author's choler is directed towards her husband (Introduction 94), whom she had recently separated from at the time of writing. However, a thorough examination of "Daddy" and of several documents of criticism pertaining to the author reveals that Plath's ire is ultimately directed towards her father (and not her husband), for the simple fact that he fated her to endure an undesirable marriage with her husband.
Plath ultimately expresses animosity towards her father for the role he played in her unsuccessful marriage with her husband. For the most part, Plath had a turbulent relationship with her husband, and not with her father. In fact, Plath's own father died when she was still a young child, a fact to which the subsequent quotation alludes. "In 1940, when Plath was eight years old, her father, a biology instructor at Boston University who harbored a special interest in bees, died suddenly of untreated diabetes mellitus" (Introduction 93). As such, it is virtually impossible for Path to have harbored any significant sort of resentment for her father due to what he did. In fact, she most likely developed a serious sense of animosity for the man for what he did not do. Quite simply, it is exceedingly possible that Plath blames her father for her unsuccessful marriage with her husband. Although her husband is of course implicated in such a sentiment, it is still a sentiment directed towards her father. Any sort of similarities between the pair would provide the poet with further reason to dislike the latter -- especially since her relationship with her husband ended poorly. Moreover, Plath could very well have disliked her father for not keeping her from her husband. When girls are young they adhere to the notion that their father is their protector. However, because Plath's father died so early on in her life, he could not fulfill such a role for her. Thus, it appears that Plath harbored resentment and ill will towards her father for the role he played in her marrying a man that treated her badly.
The crux of Path's feelings for her father in this poem is that he died too quickly, leaving her without him -- so that she eventually had to find a replacement for him. McClanahan (1980) writes "In 1940, when Plath was eight years old, her father died after a long, painful illness, and the memory of this loss was to stimulate much of the violent imagery of…Ariel" (2). "Daddy" was initially published in Ariel. Plath's replacement for her father, of course, was her husband, with whom Plath endured an unhappy relationship. Still, the fact that her father died when she was so young was the reason for the writer to have to find a replacement for her father -- a man, a loving male figure in her life -- and is a fact for which the author never forgave her father. The following quotation implies that the death of Plath's father was the beginning of a host of woes for her, which eventually culminated in her ill-fated marriage. "I was ten when they buried you. / At twenty I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you" (Plath). This passage demonstrates that Plath's previous suicide attempt (not the one that killed her but one that occurred prior) was a perverse...
Within this poem, the author explicates her initial suicide attempt as a way to "get back" to her father. The diction in this passage is very important to correctly interpreting it. The author's terms her suicide attempt as one to retrieve something, which implies that she has lost something. What she has lost, of course, is her father. Although it is not necessarily his fault that he died, the poet still resents him for leaving her. Such feelings are not logical, but are no less powerful or, for that matter, valid. Despite references to her husband in this work of literature, Plath truly blames her father for leaving her.
It is also extremely interesting to realize that Plath directly correlates the loss of her father to her marriage with her husband. This fact is painfully apparent in "Daddy," if it is perhaps less obvious (yet no less discernible) in her own life. Plath's attempt to love another man, her husband, was a way of coping with the loss of her father. The following quotation (which takes place in the poem immediately after she discusses her suicide attempt as a means of trying to return to her father) solidifies the fact that in a lot of ways, Plath's husband helped to replace the void left in her life by the loss of her father. She writes, "And then I knew what to do. / I made a model of you/, A man in black with a Meinkampf look…And said I do…" (Plath). It is apparent that the author is referring to her husband in this passage. What is noteworthy about this quotation is that her husband, the one to whom she issued the words "I do," is described as a "model" of her father. The author reinforces this notion by further describing her husband as having a "Meinkampf look." Meinkampf, of course, was the name of the autobiography of Adolph Hitler. This reference is well aligned with the many passages in this poem in which the author describes her father as a Nazi, and just further illustrates the similarities that the author sees between her husband and her father. Despite these similarities, it is critical to realize that the brunt of the hatred and choler that the author invokes is towards her father -- because he left her in a position in which she had to marry someone who had a noxious relationship with her.
One of the most integral aspects of the interpretation that the hatred in this poem of Plath's is directed at her father and not at her husband is the close similarity that exists between the two -- in the mind of the author. The more one understands the details in Plath's life and the vital role that her father played -- because she feels abandoned by him -- the more one understands the importance ascribed to her husband within "Daddy." Essentially, Plath's husband is only significant for the simple fact that he represents her father -- he is a more contemporary reincarnation of the latter, in fact. Granted, she displays feelings of negativity towards her husband. Still, these feelings are only relevant because they reflect how badly her father has hurt her with his absence from her life. Plath utilizes figurative language to explicitly denote this fact in the following quotation in "Daddy." "If I've killed one man I've killed two -- The vampire who said he was you / And drank my blood for a year,/…Daddy, you can lie back now." (Plath). Upon first glance, it might appear that ire and the disgust that fills Plath strongly enough to refer to her husband as a "vampire" directly correlates to her feelings towards him. However, the most notable aspect of her labeling her husband a vampire is that, as such, the vampire claimed that he was Plath's father ("said he was you"). The dual role that Plath's husband plays as another version of her father is also alluded to in the fact that she has rid ("killed") herself not of one man, but of two -- since her husband really represents her father. Finally, she reinforces this fact by concluding with a passage in which she tells her father about her relationship with her husband by telling the former that he is finished, and can "lie back" now that she has divorced the latter, her husband.
Another important piece of evidence in supporting the interpretation that Plath's ire is directed at her father and at her husband pertains to the similarity in the way that each of these men has treated her. Despite the fact that Plath's…
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