|Sylvia Plath, author of the confessional poem "Daddy," uses many stylistic
devices in the poem to develop a negative attitude towards men, namely her adulterous
husband and absent father. "Daddy" uses metaphor, diction, allusion, irony,
and imagery to produce a tone of hatred and digust at her relationships with both
men. In lines 71-80, Plath's imagery brings closure to both the poem and any desire
for the continuity of either relationship.
Plath uses the image of a vampire to represent her husband and her father. Words and phrases such as "a stake in your fat black heart," "drank my blood for a year," and "the vampire that said he was you" show that Plath thought of these two men as monsters. Plath also says, "If I've killed one man, I've killed two---" which is ironic because she has chosen as a husband someone similiar to the father she hates. These last ten lines bring an end to a poem filled with anguish. "Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through" reveals that Plath's apostrophe (talking to her dead father) is meant to finally let rest the feelings that have tortured her for years.
Plath uses metaphor and hyperbole to illustate the vast part of her life occupied by her father. "... a bag full of God" is used as a metaphor for her father, who, when she was a little girl, was the center of Plath's world. This is also illustrated in lines 9-11: "Ghastly statue with one gray toe/ Big as a Frisco seal / And a head in the freakish Atlantic." Plath felt that her father was so imposing and huge that he stretched from the Atlantic to San Fransico. The primary man in her life being her father, Sylvia felt that all men were superior to her no matter what, and that she would always be subordinate.
"Daddy" is filled with allusions to Hitler and Nazi Germany. "Barb wire snare," "Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen," "German tongue," "Luftwaffe," and "Neat mustache/ And your Aryan eye, bright blue" all show that Plath imagines her father as a Nazi – extremely controlling, evil, and unfeeling. Plath uses biting sarcasm to illustrate her dislike: "Every woman adores a Facist."
Plath also uses a comparison between her father and the devil to develop the attitude that men are evil: "A cleft in your chin instead of your foo t/ But no less a Devil for that." Cleft hooves, a supposed characteristic of the devil, is possesed by her father, but on his chin.
By using many stylistic devices, Plath is successful in creating a tone of hatred, disgust, and finality. Relationships with men were not her strong point by any means, and Plath's negative attitude towards men is clear.
© 2001 Cassie Durawa
|"Daddy" is a lyric poem by Sylvia Plath, sometimes considered confessional.
It is a monologue of a woman to her Daddy, who died when she was ten, but now lives
on inside her, in the same fashion he did when she was ten. Most girls outgrow this,
but because her Daddy died prematurely, she is left with these feelings into womanhood.
Lines 71-80 are about her triumph over her father; the father inside her. In the
stanza starting with line 71, the woman expunges the ghost of her father; in the
stanza starting withline 76, she steps back and admires her work, somewhat still
Stylistic devices abound in this section of the poem which develop the speaker's attitude toward men. There are several on the obvious level, followed by metaphor and other devices on the not-as-obvious level.
In line 71, the speaker states that she has "Killed one man, I've killed two." Her discussion of killing men leads to the conclusion that she has had great difficulty with men, and that she feels great pain in dealing with them – so much pain that she can kill them. This is an image, the physical manifestations of which are continued in the next stanza,
line 78, with, "They are dancing and stamping on you." These physical images are devices to express on an obvious level the speaker's frustration toward men.
The speaker's use of apostrophe in these stanzas illustrates an attitude
of power. Apostrophe is the next best thing to talking directly to the father, which is impossible, as he is dead. The speaker has conquered her fears, she was able to kill the father inside of her, and an ultimate demonstration of power is the ability to address someone directly, without having to hide behind the cloak of a method other than the second person. Humans as a general rule, if they are not confident, are unable to look at or speak directly to their adversary. Apostrophe in these lines also gives more power to the poem. "Daddy, daddy, you bastard," has more effect on the audience than, "Daddy was a bastard."
The vampire metaphor, which describes men as bloodsucking, carries the idea that men are ravenous, and are not to be trusted, as if you trust them, they will stab you in the back. Or bite, under this scenario. The speaker sounds happy that there is a "Stake in your fat black heart," and displays her resentment by saying that the "villagers never like you," (lines 76 and 77, respectively).
Stylistic devices play an important role in showing the many complicated facets of the speaker's attitude toward men. The theme of the conquering of the evil "Daddy," displayed here as a vampire is conveyed mainly through metaphor ("The vampire who said he was you.").
© 2001 Charles Martorana
|Plath’s poem "Daddy" describes her feelings of oppression from her childhood
and conjures the struggle many women face in a male-dominated society. The conflict
of this poem is male authority versus the right of a female to control her own life
and be free of male domination. Plath’s conflicts begin with her father and continue
into the relationship between her and her husband. This conflict is examined in lines
71-80 of "Daddy" in which Plath compares the damage her father caused to
that of her husband.
The short stanzas containing powerful imagery overwhelm the readers forcing them to imagine the oppression that the speaker went through in her short life. The tone of this poem is that of an adult engulfed in outrage and who oftentimes slips into a childlike dialect; this is evident when the speaker continually uses the word "Daddy" and also repeats herself quite often. The last two stanzas of the poem, especially, portray a dismal picture of life for women who find themselves under a dominating male figure. The passage seems to show that the speaker has reached a resolution after being kept under a man’s thumb all her life.
In lines 71-80 the speaker compares her father and her husband to vampires saying how they betrayed her and drank her blood--sucking her dry of life. She tells her father to give up and be done, to lie back" (line 75) and in line 80, she says, "Daddy, daddy, you bastard,
Plath’s attitude towards men is expressed in this passage through her imagery of the villagers stamping and dancing on the dead vampire. The speaker says "If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two–" most likely meaning that all men are the same and ridding the world of one is equivalent to ridding the world of both.
She is also killing off the mature childish ideas of her father being her husband (Electra complex), and ridding herself of those feelings. In line 72, "The vampire who said he was you / and drank my blood for a year / seven years, if you want to know" describes her husband and the ability of male power to strip a woman of her sense of self. (Plath was married to her husband for seven years during which he had an affair with another woman.) He has drained her by drinking her blood, or figuratively sucking the life out of her. In line 75, Plath states, "Daddy, you can lie back now," as if to say the damage is done. "There’s a stake in your fat black heart and the villagers never liked you," is relevant to the image of vampires because stabbing them with a stake to the heart is the only way they die.
The villagers can be thought of as another persona for Plath who has gotten over her resentment of her father and now has just decided to forget about him. "They [the villagers] are dancing and stamping on you. / They always knew it was you," is almost ambiguous because it is not clear whether Plath is directing this to her husband or her father. If to her father, it means that she has figured out that it was her father in Ted’s place all along and subconsciously Plath knew that and didn’t want to believe it. Yet, in the last line, it is clear that Plath was able to resolve her conflicts. She finishes the poem with a powerful, "Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through" – showing her dead father that she has reached a resolution and freedom.
© 2001 Jessie Wiener