Sylvia Plath’s poetry is well known for its deeply personal and emotional subject matter. Much of Plath’s poetry is confessional and divulges the most intimate parts of her psyche whether through metaphor or openly, without creating a persona through which to project her feelings, and through the use of intense imagery. Plath’s attempt to purge herself of the oppressive male figures in her life is one such deeply personal and fundamental theme in her poetry. In her poem, “Daddy”, which declares her hatred for her father and husband, this attempt is expressed through language, structure, and tone. (Perkins, 591)
Sylvia’s father, Otto Plath, was a German immigrant and an entomologist who specialized in bumblebees. Plath described him to a college roommate as “an autocrat . . . I adored and despised him, and I probably wished many times that he were dead. When he obliged me and died, I imagined that I had killed him.” (Perkins, 590) Plath’s father was a tyrant and ruled over her with an iron fist. Plath felt that her father, to suit his particular needs and whims, molded her. Plath’s relationship with her husband, poet Ted Hughes, was not much healthier. In 1962, after only seven years of marriage, Plath learned that her husband was having an affair. Two months later and five months before Plath committed suicide, Hughes left her for Assia Gutman. Plath had been subservient and coy towards Hughes, deeply loving and admiring him.
Hughes took Plath for granted and left her when he was no longer interested. She was devastated.
It is through such poems as “Daddy” that Plath expresses her feelings of malice toward her father and husband for the way that they treated her. Plath felt dominated by both her father and husband. “Daddy” describes these feelings of oppression and her battle to overcome the power imbalance. The intensity of this conflict is made extremely apparent as she uses examples that cannot be ignored. The atrocities of Nazi Germany are used as symbols of the horror of male domination. The constant and crippling manipulation of men, as they introduced oppression and hopelessness into her life, is equated with the twentieth century's worst period. Plath’s father is transformed into a “Panzer-man,” a “Fascist,” and a “bastard.” Words such as Luftwaffe, the aircraft known as the “Angels of Death” used by Adolf Hitler during WWII, and Meinkampf, Hitler’s political manifesto, are used to characterize her father and husband as well as male domination in general. (Perkins, 594) The frequent use of the word black throughout the poem also conveys a feeling of gloom and suffocation.
Plath felt oppressed and stifled by men throughout her life. The first stanza of “Daddy” conveys her feelings of domination by her father:
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Plath uses similes and metaphors to describe herself as a foot being...