March 2, 2005

Daddy's Little Girl

Upon the very first time of reading Sylvia Plath’s "Daddy,” I was shocked and also rather confused as to the direction of her poem. However, some obvious struggles were found within. It is well-known that Plath struggled in her life with mental illness and suicide attempts...

Through some research, I found that her father died when she was only a young girl. In addition, whereas some sources state her father, Otto Plath, died from diabetes, other sources state he died of complications following a leg amputation. However, despite these inconsistencies, I took a lot from this poem and I will argue my interpretations…

Many of my classmates assume that Plath hated her father. However, there is no direct reference that she hates him. Rather I think that she feels abandoned, alone, isolated. Her father died before she was ready – “Daddy, I have had to kill you. You died before I had time--.” She is saying that she must erase his memory and finally move on with her life because she was too young when he died. Plath’s struggle to deal with her father’s death appropriately was a major grievance in her life. Wouldn’t most young children probably feel the same way if a parent had died at this age? This is a traumatic event that is not fully understood until years later. It doesn’t shock me that she would feel trapped and try to commit suicide several times (especially given the mental illness).

A major recurring reference in her poem is with the Holocaust and Germans. I read that her father was a German, but not a Nazi. Of everything I have read about Plath’s biography, never once did I read that she was Jewish or suffered in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. However, it was occurring within the same time period. I think that Plath was comparing herself to a Jew (during that time) – victimized, alone, scared, trapped. “I think I may well be a Jew,” “I may be a bit of a Jew.” That may be a big stretch, and in some ways I would disagree that it is wrong to compare oneself to a concentration camp victim, but it is relevant to the time she lived and was writing.

Ted Hughes, Plath’s husband for seven years, is also written about in this poem. Plath writes, “Bit my pretty red heart in two.” This doesn’t seem to fit with the memory of her father… but a lover.

“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. 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 Meinkampf look.” In this stanza, I believe Plath is confessing that at twenty she tried to commit suicide, in an attempt to get back to her father (showing her love for him), but she survived. She then decided she had to make a “model” of her father… her husband, whom in the next stanza says, “And I said, I do, I do.” This announces her marriage to Hughes. However, Platt describes him as a “brute,” “devil,” and “vampire.”

There are some things that are not clear to me within this poem, but I definitely feel that Plath is speaking of both her father and husband. She seems to have some repressed feelings towards her father’s death, but genuine anger and hurt toward her husband’s infidelity.

“If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two – The vampire who said he was you and drank my blood for a year, Seven years, if you want to know Daddy, you can lie back now.” This is symbolic, because Plath is killing, or letting go of, not only her father’s memory but also her husband who has been unfaithful. In the last line, then, it seems relevant that Plath is speaking about her husband… “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”

Hughes was having an affair during his marriage to Plath and this poem was written at the time that he left her. About three months later, Plath was successful in committing suicide.

Posted by KaylaTurano at March 2, 2005 2:33 PM

I also didn't really feel as though she hated her father but that she had to let go of the memory of him or deal with his death in her own mind and that was a big part of this poem but it also helps to know about her cheating husband, this was the missing dimension of the poem for me. I thought that maybe there was a stepfather in her life acting as her father or somethign like that. I wrote about it in my blog. But it makes more sense that it must have been her husband.
However I am confused now because you said that she commuitted suicide 3 months after writing this poem (written in 1965) but in our poetry book I read the poem by Plath "LAst Words" and the book says that it was written in 1971 how can this be? I am not criticizing your work, your blog was awesome and you did a lot more research than I did but I am just confused about that inconsistency.

Posted by: Mary Anderson at March 2, 2005 9:31 PM

Moira also brought up something about Plath and her suicide attempts, I think... Interesting. Could the death of her father have had any impact on this? Dealing with grief is known to be a catalyst towards such behavior, but was it that or the "mental illness" for Plath? Was she suffering depression or something else? Anyone want this for a thesis?--I could keep asking questions!! haha

Good post, Kayla. Nice insight.

Posted by: Karissa at March 2, 2005 10:07 PM

Mary ~ I went back and checked some websites for actual dates regarding Plath's suicide. It is a little confusing, given the dates attached to her poems, but I think that is because after her death, others found her work and had it published. It is a shame so many think of her as a mentally unstable feminist. Her writing was brilliant (despite what was going on in her life) and will be studied for a long time. Anyway... I found this website (even though it isn't really a very good one), because I was interested myself. I have to admit that I wasn't 100% sure on that.

The URL link should be by my name on this comment.

That link mentions, "Sylvia Plath met Ted Hughes on February 25, 1956, when she was twenty-three and he was twenty-five. Her last meeting with him was shortly before she committed suicide in February 1963." This would make sense, then, because we know that Plath and Hughes were married for seven years. I just read that Plath killed herself three months after writing "Daddy." I am not sure that this is truly accurate, but I will look further into the dates. I also read somewhere that a lot of her writing that she had been working on the months before her suicide were very different from the others. However, Plath was successful in this suicide attempt and her work was found later on.
I don't know why, but I have always found Sylvia Plath's work to be very intriguing. I remember reading The Bell Jar years ago and being so fascinated with it. If you have any other questions, let me know... I am going to do some other research on her life later on. Thanks for your response, Mary! I love getting feedback. :)

Posted by: Kayla Turano at March 2, 2005 10:18 PM


Posted by: Kayla Turano at March 2, 2005 10:19 PM

Another comment. I am loving it! :) Thanks!
Karissa, the reasons for Plath's suicide? Wow... well it is hard for us to say. The more that I read up on her life and troubles, I can sympathize. Mental illness plays a tremendous role in all of this as well. Perhaps she was not given proper treatment. I would assume that she wasn't, given her many suicide attempts.

These links give more insight into her life:

I have also read that Plath received ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy ~ induced seizures to lift mood) on numerous occasions. We are just now learning the effects that this can have on one's mind and memory.

Plath is very multidimensional. I am interested in learning about her life and her struggles as a young woman with so much talent. As a Psychology major I can understand why she tried to repress her father's memory, as indicated in "Daddy," but it seems that her husband began to take her father's place. She fails to see the difference between the two men, almost as if she has lost a bit of reality. Although we will never really know what ultimately caused her suicide, I am sure that many factors led up to it... for example... did you know she had a miscarriage with her husband? Other more obvious examples include the death of her father while she was only ten years old, her husband's infidelity, mental illness that hadn't been taken care of, and then the struggles she faced that we will never know.

Posted by: Kayla Turano at March 2, 2005 10:38 PM

Your blog helped me to get a background of the story. I thank you for that because it does make some things clearer. In my opinion, she compares herself to a jew because she has some gypsy ancestress. They were treated the same way that the Jews were. the weblink i have in my blog states that atleast 250,000 gypsies were killed in the gas chambers or concentration camps. I think this is why she felt something like a jew. they were hated by the Germans.

Posted by: Scott Clark at March 2, 2005 10:41 PM

Scott ~ Your research into that makes sense. Thanks for your insight! During the Holocaust, Jews were definitely not the only targeted group. Various minorites, religions, professions, sexualities (homosexuals), etc. were also prosecuted. Basically anyone who did not conform to Hitler's standards.

Plath makes this connection and we are meant to understand her suffering. Her life consists of grief and loneliness. She makes many references to the color black, and I question why. Does this represent her father or maybe the grief that she has found herself trapped within?

"You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lives like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo."

"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."

"You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In a 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

Bit my pretty red heart in two."

..."The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through."

"There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you."

I see a connection here.
She refers to her heart as a "pretty red heart" that was bit it two.
I am not sure which man she is referring to with the "fat black heart" with the stake through it.

Any ideas?

Posted by: Kayla Turano at March 2, 2005 11:09 PM

Hey, thanks for all that, Kayla. You're doing a great job with follow-up!

Sure, I understand that there can never really be a direct understanding of why someone--anyone--would kill themselves because we, as humans, are complexity after complexity just building up. Have you discovered what mental illness Plath had suffered? I'm just wondering.

Posted by: Karissa at March 3, 2005 12:00 AM

I don't know why your trackback isn't appearing, but if you just post a comment on the Daddy page, and include this URL, people will be able to find out how much work you've put into this poem. Good job!

Another detail about Otto Plath... he was a teacher and an entomologyst (one who studies bugs). Sometimes students who take this poem's images at face value imagine that he was an SS Colonel, or that he sexually abused Plath. But I'm not aware that there's any evidence for either claim.

Was Plath making light of the horrors of the Holocaust, by using Nazi imagery to explain her anger that her father died when she was 10? Why would her discovery of her husband's infidelity make this rage for her father bubble up so powerfully? The poem certainly asks us to consider, side-by-side, these two men whose intimate connection with the poet was a source of great pain.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at March 3, 2005 12:04 AM

Karissa... I am not sure if it was determined exactly what Plath suffered from. However, I read that it was most likely bipolar depression and also severe PMS. Those links give some of that information.

Dr. Jerz~
I don't think that Plath was making light of the horrors of the Holocaust with her Nazi imagery. She was just comparing her pain and suffering to that of a Jew. But I think by creating her father into a "monster-like" being that she was able to repress his memory a bit... although I question if it really helped. Maybe she didn't deal with his death properly, who knows. She didn't seem to mourn her father. She was trying to reconnect to him (suicide attempts, inability to move on). However, by getting married to a man that was so similar to her father, his infidelity probably sparked the repressed feelings concerning her father. Her husband probably was a model of her father to rekindle Plath's father-daughter relationship. When her husband was unfaithful, this was not only harmful to the marriage, but ultimately led Plath to feel betrayed by her father. IDK... this may make no sense whatsoever... but I feel like I can see what she was doing?

Posted by: KaylaTurano at March 3, 2005 10:35 AM

I have read and I believe it to be true that girls look for the same qualities possessed by their father's when seeking a husband/man for a relatinoship. The same goes for boys and their mothers. What it all comes down to is that a child loves his or her parents no matter what even if they are horrible to them because to a child they are thier whole world. Even if a girl's father abuses her or molests her she can't help but love him and i believe that is why some women are prone to becoming involved with abusive men, etc. With Plath, her father died before she entered that stage of her life. She still needed her father to be there and model to her what a husband should be like. Maybe she is resentful towards him subconsciously because he died when she was a girl and when she grew up and married her relationship with her husband was not the greatest. The reason father's give their daughter's away at weddings is because a husband takes the place of a father when a girl marries. (This is in the traditional sense, many women may argue that they don't marry a man because they need soemone to take care of them) however my point is that Plath's father's death possibly contributed to her negative feelings towards her relatinoship that wasn't working out, etc.

Posted by: Mary Anderson at March 3, 2005 1:55 PM

I love your book!!And your name laugh out loud! hope to see you soon
from kayla hunt

Posted by: kayla hunt at May 9, 2006 5:27 AM
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