Sylvia Plath in her poem Daddy talks about her relationship with her father. She also evokes images of the holocaust just like in her poem Lady Lazarus. In the poem, Plath talks about the unhealthy relationship she had with her dad and the toil it took on her. The poem begins with the speaker declaring that she will no longer put up with the shoe in which she has lived in for thirty years “You do not you, do not anymore the black shoe” (Plath 1). According to a feminists lens Plath is a woman who has decided that enough is enough and she will not live under oppression.
The oppressor is represented by the show owner and in this case, it is her father. She had lived under his oppression for thirty years and just like the foot in the shoe, she could not breathe. The shoe represents the male dominance over women in the society.
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In a patriarchal society, men oppress the women because the women have no power. However, the woman in the poem is willing to go against the male domination she will no longer be trapped and squeezed in the shoe. Her feet will get a space to breath because she has decided to break herself loose from the shoe. The feminists’ theory of Marxism captures the imbalance of power between the speaker and her father. Their relationship represents the imbalance of power between men and women in a patriarchal society. Moreover, the speaker in the poem after she becomes an adult compares male domination to a train that was used to ferry Jews to concentration camps in Nazi German. She feels like the people trapped in those trains that cannot escape their fate and will have to reach one of the camps such as Auschwitz and Dachau.
Suffering of the Jews represents the suffering of the women in the feminist’s theory. Plath says, “Daddy, I have had to kill you/You died before I had time (Plath 6-7). The speaker puts an end to her father’s life albeit metaphorically, she wants to end everything that represents oppression in her life. Her father had oppressed her and she was going to seek emancipation. She liberates herself by killing the memory of her father that had tormented her for so long.
She had been reduced to nothing as she says in line 5 that she could barely breathe. The father in the poem inhibits the speaker from writing her own history because she has lived under his shadow. She fails to live her life the way she would want because she is not free.
Similarly, she represents women in the male dominated society who live under the shadow of their male counterparts and fail to shine as long as they are under oppression. She had lived under her father’s shadow and later marries a man similar to her father whom she also kills for oppressing her, “The vampire who said he was you/ And drank my blood for a year” (Plath 82). On other hand, it is alleged that women desire to be dominated by men. This kind of thinking is not acceptable in feminism because it reinforces the notion that women must be controlled by men. Plath says, “every woman adores a fascist/The boot in the face, the brute/Brute heart of a brute like you” (43-45). The lines seem to reinforce the ancient thinking that victimization is a pull for the women that women will be attracted to fascists. During the second stage of feminist movement, feminist critics looked at the way female authors represented women in their artistic work. Sylvia Plath wrote her poem with a female character that represented a woman who had suffered but was willing to change her situation.
The character in the poem is complex as she struggles from childhood through adulthood to come to terms with the loose of her father at a young age. The speaker in the poem had been socialized into a society that oppressed women. This is why she had lived in her father’s shoes for thirty years. She was seeking protection from her father just as a foot gets protection from the shoe but she never got it. It means she had accepted her traditional role for thirty years until she killed her father and rid herself of his ghostly memory. Moreover, feminists in the current stage of feminism, feminists look at the ways that female writers use to make their work acceptable in a literary world dominated by male critics.
According to Gubar and Gilbert (45) women, writers could choose between mimicry in which the female characters behave and look like men or less their work would be considered inferior in literary terms. However, women found a way of overcoming the standards that the males had set through the use of the concept of the ‘mad woman’ and angel in the house. The later concept represents a woman who conforms to society’s expectation of how a good woman should behave while the former does not behave according to societal norm hence mad. Through the madwoman, a female author got a way of channeling out her frustrations. In the poem Daddy, the author employed the concept of madwoman. Through the speaker in the poem, Plath projects her rage against oppression.
She also gets a chance to confront the source of her rage directly. In the poem, she demonstrates her inner turmoil that was brought about by her father. She condemns her father for domineering her and shows how women are abused both psychologically and physically in a patriarchal society. Through the madwoman, Plath condemns the institution of marriage that makes her suffer just as her father had done. She was mistaken in marrying because she marries a man who treats her like her father or even worse because she says the man sacked blood out of her life. The madwoman character helps Plath to overcome her father’s suffocation. The tone of the poem is powerful and full of anger.
The strong words that the poet uses show her overwhelming feeling for instance in the last line of the poem she says “Daddy daddy, you bastard, I’m through” (Plath 95). Elsewhere in the poem, she uses the word kill. Kill is a strong word because it talks about death which is not a pleasant subject. She also says that she wanted to get back at her father for abandoning at an early age. She tried to kill herself and join him in death but her plain had not succeeded yet because she was saved “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” (Plath 58-62).
She uses figurative language to pass the message in her work. The metaphors about the holocaust evoke the strong hatred she has for the male dominated society. She talks of “an engine, an engine/Chuffing me off like a Jew” (Plath 31-32). Plath employs this figure of speech to show how she feels about her oppressive father. She also says that he is “Not God but a swastika” (Plath 46). She sees him in every German man that she meets. The German are connected to the Nazis who oppressed the Jews and made them to go through untold suffering in the various concentration camps. She sees herself as a Jew and even talks like one.
She likens herself to the Jews to show that she suffered under her father’s hands as the Jews in the Nazi’s. Furthermore, she uses imagery to create a picture in the reader’s mind of her father’s appearance by saying that he had a neat beard and Aryan blue eyes. The features symbolize the Nazis who wanted to kill all the Jews to maintain racial purity. She also calls her father a vampire due to the pain he had brought upon her. The vampire depicts a situation in which the father continues to haunt her long after his death because he returned in form of her husband and after she killed both of the villagers rejoiced because the never liked him.
The villagers’ rejoicing symbolizes Plath’s emotions after she managed to purge herself of the men who made her suffer. Finally, the poem employs stream of consciousness and the speakers thoughts are demonstrated as she addresses her dead father. She tells him that she always feared him and could not talk to him. She tells him how she prayed that he would be back but now prays no more. Through her thoughts, we see her psychological turmoil and the hold that the men have on women in a patriarchal society. Plath succeeds in telling as about her personal problems in the poem as well as the problems that women encounter in a patriarchal society. On a triumphant note, she is able to free herself from her father’s domination and thus there is hope for women in their quest for total emancipation.
Gubar, Susan and Sandra Gilberts. The madwoman in the attic: the woman writer and the nineteenth-century literary imagination. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000. Print. Plath Sylvia. Daddy. n.
d. 17 Dec. 2010. http://www.internal.org/Sylvia_Plath/Daddy