An Analysis of Sylvia Plath's Poem, Daddy
Sylvia Plath's famous poem "Daddy" seems to refer quite consistently to her deceased father (and obliquely to her then estranged husband Ted Hughes) by use of many references that can clearly be associated with the background of Otto Plath, emphasizing his German heritage. These include the "Polish town" where Otto was born, the atrocities of the German Nazis in the Second World War ("Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen"), the "Luftwaffe," and even the professorial pose of Dr. Plath "at the blackboard . . . / In the picture I have of you."
Yet in the midst of these references to Otto Plath's specifically German origins, lines at the beginning of stanza eight mention distinctly Austrian details: "The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna / Are not very pure or true" (lines 36-37). The two nations, Germany and Austria, share a common language, but they are--and have been--two very distinct countries. Otto Plath seems to have had no personal connection with Austria in his life, and the relevance of these lines to Plath's father seems obscure, especially as they are not further elaborated upon in the poem.
Two explanations for the presence of these intrusive lines, I believe, can be offered. First, in keeping with the repeated Nazi references in the poem, they might be Plath's very oblique reminder that even though the Nazis are universally associated with the Germans, AdoIf Hitler himself was born and raised in Austria, and during the Second World War many Austrians participated in the Nazi military effort (as the recent controversy over former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim made dear). However, as applied to Hitler, these references are both vague and inaccurate (Hitler was born in Upper Austria, not the Tyrol, and he lived only briefly in Vienna before moving to Germany), and it seems unlikely that Plath would have concerned herself with such a minor historical reference.
A personal association with Austria seems far more likely for Plath's inclusion of these lines, and indeed a dose and profoundly significant one exists: Plath's mother, Aurelia Schober Plath, was of Austrian descent, both of her parents having emigrated from that country (Wagner-Martin 18). Sylvia Plath's complex, emotionally charged relationship with her mother suffuses many of her poems, of course, and repeatedly in works such as "Medusa" and "The Disquieting Muses," and throughout her novel The Bell Jar, Plath...