Practical criticism of Daddy by Sylvia Plath Essay
The poem opens with a childish repetition of the words “You do not do, you do not do”. Already we see the discord as it echoes the tantrums of a child and their refusal to acknowledge “you”, while at the same time inviting interest with the meaning of “do”. We want to know what relationship these two have. Why do “you” not “do”. Coupled with the title, the intrigue is furthered with its such basic refusal.
As if to continue this, “for thirty years, poor and white” seems to suggest that the only facts about herself that she can acknowledge is her basic race and status, such is her alienation and denial of any element of belonging.In the last line we see “barely daring to breathe or Achoo”. While also hinting at the nursery rhyme about the black death, which will later lead on to metaphors for the Nazis, again it draws comparisons between the importance of her father and her most basic functions. She is demanding that the reader, and her father, understand the core importance of such a person, equating it with life itself.
We then see, in “Daddy, I have had to kill you” a confusion of tenses. Very cleverly, this suggests the eternal factor of her father, and her inability to kill him.Repeated later in the poem, it is not so much the physical father, but his mental affect on her that causes her so much grief and that she cant get rid of. She then tries to symbolise his magnificence in comparing him to a statue.
In a sense, he was monumentous to her, even if this was not glorified in a “ghastly statue”. She also manages to again echo the omniscience of him in “a bag full of God” which can also be interpreted crudely as a scrotum, which, scientifically, was all he was to her. However, in the next paragraph, she symbolises him as the Atlantic “where it pours bean green over blue”.Her imagery hops about, as if she cannot symbolise him or classify him properly, such was his effect on her. Then there is the symbolism of the sea as being forever moving, changing and all true reality being washed away in its immensity. Coupled with the interesting use of the “Nauset” and its similarity to the word “nauseous” seems to portray her mental anguish and confusion rather astutely.
In the third line she “used to pray for to recover you”. This is a strong contrast to her want to kill him, and perfectly mirrors the conflict of emotions within her.She then moves on to horrific imagery, symbolising herself as the Polish, being “scraped flat by the roller” by Germans, who, since her father was German, the two can be easily equated. She uses the comparison to suggest that he, like the German soldiers, has not understood the full implication of his actions, and the amazing affect they have had on those around them.
To the Germans, “the town is common”. “So I could never could tell where you put your foot, your root” signifies the fact that he could not even pass down any element of himself.When Sylvia was a child, her father would not see her, for fear of passing down the disease he had, even if it wasn’t transmittable. However, through his actions, he is refused to pass down the very factors that made him her father. He denies her his knowledge, his heritage, his understanding, and in return is denied hers “I could never talk to you. The tongue stuck in my jaw”.
The next images are very depressing in their repetition of her frustration at being unable to communicate with her father. “Ich, ich, ich, ich” is a very slow, harsh sounding sentence, almost onomatopoeic in its description of her attempts to force out the words.And of course, in German it means “I”, and “I I I I” or “me me me me” can be seen as a cry for help in her want to be loved. Strangely, in “I thought every German was you” she could be suggesting that she considered every man she came across as her father, because of how little he actually affected her. She is misguided in her understanding of love, and as such finds “the language obscene” because is contains no sign of compassion or love. In the next stanza, we again see the comparison with the Germans, and this time with the much more ghastly images of Jews in concentration camps.
She is really stretching the boundaries; trying to find an image suitable to reflect the pain he has caused her. Her repetition of the names of the different concentration camps is gruesome and cold, and “chuffing me off like a Jew” also implies the utter desolation and inescapable alienation of the two parties. In “With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck and my Taroc pack” We can see the effects of this alienation and denial. Confusion from her lack of past leads to a directionless future, and her reliance on such fleeting chance as Taroc packs.