The Violence of Plath’s Daddy
"Daddy" is probably Plath’s most famous poem. The critic George Steiner has said that, "It is a poem by which future generations will seek to know us." He has also called it, "the Guernica of modern poetry." The violence of its imagery and tone, the references to concentration camps, torture and fascism certainly evoke Picasso’s most celebrated painting.
Plath claimed that in this poem she was adopting the persona of a girl with an Electra complex whose father had been a fascist, but while the poem is not completely autobiographical, it contains several obvious references to her own life. For example, here she refers to the picture of her father:
"You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you"
This is a direct image of the actual photograph the Plaths possessed of Otto in front of his blackboard at the University. Similarly, the "man in black with a Meinkampf look" and the "vampire" who "drank my blood" for "seven years" is a reference to her perception of Hughes to whom she had been married for seven years when this poem was written.
But the poem is not completely autobiographical. Otto Plath had no connection whatsoever with Nazism, so the poet is moving between her own and the persona’s fictional life throughout the poem. This movement between her actual life and her character’s life creates, I feel, some of the problems the poem presents the reader with, which others may wish to discuss further. Some people might believe that it is wrong to appropriate the sufferings of the Jews during the Holocaust as an image for a relatively privileged, Gentile woman’s private, emotional suffering. Another issue is whether this is a love or a hate poem? It contains elements of both. A further difficulty is the apparent celebration of female masochism contained in the line:
"Every woman adores a fascist."
I find it interesting to compare this poem with "Colossus", an earlier poem written on her father and to relate some aspects of the poem to the legends/mythology of the Great Goddess.
In "Colossus" the dead father was tended as an idol but in "Daddy" he is metaphorically killed....