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February 28, 2005

Jabbering of Jews

There is a lot of talk of Jews, and I'm not really certain how it all plays into these poems. Many mentions and inferences make me remember the many world views of religion and society.

Examples from "Judith of Bethulia" (by John Crowe Ransom) aren't as noticeable as those in "Daddy" (by Sylvia Plath).

Judith of Bethulia is a Jewish woman:

Judith was a Jewish widow of noble rank in Bethulia, a town besieged by the army of the Assyrian general Holofernes. She approached his tent as an emissary and captivated him with her beauty. He ordered a feast with much wine. After he passed out in his tent, Judith and her maid Abra saw their opportunity. Judith decapitated Holofernes with his sword and smuggled his head back to Bethulia. On seeing her trophy, the townsfolk routed the leaderless Assyrians. The story is an allegory picturing Judith as Judaism in triumph over its pagan enemy.

A triumph of Judaism? Okay...

Juxtapose this with the negative Jewish references found in "Daddy," (stanza 6 and 7):

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

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.

Why is the narrator concerned whether she is Jewish or not? The "daddy" is German--that much is obvious. Ich is German for the personal pronoun "I."

References to "Meinkampf," which is Hitler's autobiography, and also swastikas:

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.

No sky could squeak through? Makes me want to cry... (Nice use of onomatopoeia, I think). So black--so dark, too heavy are his convictions that the "daddy" can't get past his Fascist ways (at least those declares Fascist by the narrator).

The triumph of Judaism in "Judith" gets torn to a lower level when put side by side with "Daddy." Everything good in the Jewish references of "Judith" is questioned in just reading the references of the father being Fascist, comparing his life (in many ways) to Hitler... What can be said about this?

"Daddy" was written in 1963, but "Judith" was written in 1962. Hm. Something in this timeframe that could cause a stir in the Jewish community?

Interestingly enough, Nostra Aetate was written in 1965. Historically, there was coming to be an acceptance of world religions. I think perhaps these poems could be reflections of the "sign of the times," that these are two author's thoughts on society's movements towards acceptance.

Jerz: Am Lit II (EL 267): Plath, ''Daddy''

Jerz: Am Lit II (EL 267): Ransom, ''Judith of Bethulia''

Posted by KarissaKilgore at February 28, 2005 10:53 PM


How interesting that "Daddy" and "Judith" were both written in the same time period... I don't know what that means, of course, but it's still neat! ;c)

Did the narrator in "Daddy" really know her father? Plath's father died when she was 9... maybe the references to fascism are a reflection of what was going on in society when she was growing up - if all she ever heard about Germans was that they hated Jews, then maybe that colored her vision? just a random thought...

Posted by: moira at March 2, 2005 10:38 AM


I wrote in my blog on this subject many of my suspicions. Karissa has already chosen to disagree with me and that's great! Maybe I'll get a discussion going on my blog for a change...

Anyway. In answer to your question I do not think the narrator knew her father, or if she did he was never around so again she would never really have known him. I have many suspicions all of which are just that. When it comes to poetry I just read and try to feel what the author was writing about. And it seems to me that Plath was writing about the hatred a child feels when his or her father leaves them.

Posted by: Tiffany at March 2, 2005 1:55 PM

One of the things that really caught my attention in Daddy were the little snippits about the Holocaust. I am wondering how it relates to Plath. Also, the other thing I was curious about was the reference to Germans, I mean not all Germans were bad, there were many that helped the Jewish people hide during the Holocaust. Aside from that, how does that tie in with her father? Hmmm.....questions, questions, questions.

Posted by: Sue at March 2, 2005 10:18 PM

Haha, Sue, you'll have to bring those questions to class! I'm sure someone will have something to enlighten you.

And you're right--not all Germans are (were) bad. Really, when people think of Germans they probably come up with saurkraut, the throaty language, and the Holocaust... I wish it wasn't that way... But Plath doesn't exactly help to alleviate the pressure of the Holocaust with her allusions, does she? :-/

Posted by: Karissa at March 2, 2005 10:47 PM

I'd have to agree with Tiff-
I know from reading some of the biograophys on line, (of which I have provided on my blogs) that Plath's father died when she was young. I feel as though Plath never really knew her father, however from what she did know really hurt her, and as I discuss in my blogs enteries, this poem acted as an outlet for her emotions. Emotions of frustration and disapointment toward her father. Just a thought.

Posted by: KristenZappalla at March 3, 2005 10:04 AM

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