As a modern female poet, Sylvia Plath played many roles in her art: she was the fragile feminist, the confessional writer, the literary innovator. As a woman, Plath found herself with one foot in her past and the other in an uncertain future, her present an often uncomfortable combination of the two. She was at once a daughter desperate to make her parents proud and a wife eager to please her husband; an overworked, depressed teenager and a lonely, sick mother; a child who lost her father and an adult who lost her hope. Plath’s confusion between her memories and her fantasies produced the creative inspiration that spawned much of her work; the losses she suffered had the same effect. The death of her father became a theme in her poetry on which Plath would often spin her words. In the poem “Daddy,” Plath uses imagery to compare her father to a shoe, God and a vampire, to establish similarities between her father and her husband and to describe the lack of communication between her and her father.
“You do not do, you do not do/Anymore, black shoe,” proclaims Plath in the opening lines of “Daddy” (222), introducing the world to her father, ominous in the color black and consistent in his inability to “do” anything for Plath “anymore.” This depiction of the father as an shoe instead of a man also presents Plath’s deft use of imagery to color the character of her father, this time with the shade of a black shoe. This image makes the father sound “stifling” (“Slayer” 1).
The imagery of the black shoe is also powerful in explaining the nature of Plath’s posthumous relationship with her father. Shoes usually protect the foot, provide warmth for it (Goelzhaeuser 1). Shoes in the poem, however, do not invoke the sheltering, caring image. Nicola Goelzhaeuser points out that Plath’s wording brings to mind darker thoughts of the shoe and the father it represents. Goelzhaeuser explains Plath’s objective in using the imagery of the shoe by saying, “The adjective ‘black’ suggests the idea of death, and since the shoe is fitting tightly around the foot, one might think of a corpse in a coffin” (1). Goelzhaeuser’s thoughts extend to the changed relationship between shoe and foot, which has gone from a nurturing stance of safety to a more “smothering” type of coexistence (1).
Otto Plath’s death in 1940 of diabetes mellitus (Barnard 15) had a profound effect on his young daughter. The family moved away from their seaside home after her father’s death, altering Plath’s surroundings and entire world (50). This threw her into the beginning of a lifelong confusion, and in her loss, Plath identified her already distant father as a major force in her life and began to view him as a deity. In the notes of her Collected Poems, Plath herself is quoted from a BBC reading where she characterized the speaker of “Daddy” as a girl whose “father died when she thought he was God” (293). In the poem, she refers to him as “a bag full of God” (222), a metaphor meant to...