Sylvia Plath's poem “Daddy” appeared in her collection Ariel, which was published in 1965. Yet, the poems in the collection were written mere months before Plath's death in February 1963. These poems are some of the best examples of confessional poetry, or poetry that is extremely personal and autobiographical in nature. Indeed, in the 1970s, the publication of Plath's autobiographical novel The Bell Jar under her own name—it was published in England in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas— amplified the context for “Daddy” and set the poem firmly inside Plath's life story. That poem and the book taken together made Plath an emblem of the conflicted intellectual woman simultaneously starved for and revolted by male affection. In the 1970s “Daddy” was celebrated perhaps more as a confessional anthem of female oppression, subversion, and resistance in a world dominated by male power and the power of male definition than it was celebrated as a poem.
General critical opinion indicates that the poems in Ariel, not just “Daddy,” reveal a mastery of the craft that was often suggested but not fully realized in Plath's earlier poems. Ariel set Plath among the first-ranking American poets of the second half of the twentieth century. After her death, her novel, her journals, and some children's stories she wrote were published. In 2004, the version of Ariel as Plath had intended it, edited by her daughter, Frieda Hughes, was released by HarperCollins. In the first version, her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, had dropped several poems, and rearranged the order in which they appeared.
Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Her German-born father, Otto Plath, was professor of zoology and German at Boston University and was also an expert on bees. Her Austrian-born mother, Aurelia Schober Plath, was twenty years her husband's junior. In 1934, she gave birth to Plath's brother, Warren. Six years later, just after Plath's eighth birthday, her father died of complications from a case of diabetes he had neglected to treat. Later that same year, Plath published her first poem at the age of eight in the children's section of the Boston Herald. Plath, who began keeping a diary when she was eleven, continued to do so until her death.
Plath was an excellent student in high school, and she was accepted by Smith College with a full scholarship funded by the American novelist Olive Higgins Prouty, in 1950. In 1953, Plath spent the summer in New York City after being chosen to be one of the college student editors of Mademoiselle magazine. Back at Smith for her junior year, she attempted suicide with pills but did not succeed, was hospitalized, with the financial help of Olive Prouty again, and later returned to school. She graduated from Smith magna cum laude in 1955. After Smith, she went to England on a Fulbright scholarship and studied at Cambridge, where she met the English poet Ted Hughes. They were married a year later, in June 1956, and Plath moved back to Massachusetts with Hughes. She taught at Smith, attended Robert Lowell's poetry seminars in Boston, and wrote. In 1959, Plath and Huges returned to England, living first in London and then in Devon. Plath suffered a miscarriage and then gave birth to two children. Her marriage to Huges went badly, as her husband took mistresses. At the time Plath wrote “Daddy,” either during the last months of 1962 or the first of 1963, they were in the process of divorcing. The poem was first published in Ariel, posthumously, in 1965.
Indeed, “Daddy” well may be Plath's best known work, just as Ariel is her best known collection of poetry. Her 1960 collection, The
Colossus and Other Poems, is not considered to have the power and individuality that Ariel has. But her novel, The Bell Jar (1963), is still immensely popular.
By 1963, Plath was living in London, in a house where the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats had once lived. It was here that Plath killed herself by putting her head in the oven after having turned on the gas the morning of February 11. After her death, her reputation as a poet and a feminist icon quickly became formidable. In 1982, after the publication of her collected poems, Plath was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
“Daddy” begins on a note of rejection by means of the repetition of the phrase “You do not do.” Uttered once, it is a statement of a fact or of an opinion. Repeated, it denotes a realization that, the poem shows, is simultaneously painful and liberating. Although the second line reveals that it is a “black shoe” that does “not do,” the fact that the first line appears directly under the poem's title pulls the reference backward to the title as well, leaving the intended, pervasive suggestion that it is the speaker's father who does “not do.” With a focus on the shoe, “in which” the speaker has “lived like a foot / For thirty years, poor and white,” Plath is expressing a claustrophobic condition that has haunted the narrator lifelong. Additionally, she is coloring that personal suffering with the hint of social oppression suggested by the allusion to the squalid conditions in which the poor must live and the power the color black has to overwhelm the color white.
The world she has lived in, like a black shoe, is severe, formal, confining, and constricting. She experiences herself to be more like a foot, a limb or appendage, than a person, integral unto herself. In contrast to the shoe, she is blanched, poor, devitalized. Because of the constraint of the shoe-like environment she has “Barely dar[ed] to breathe or” sneeze. Instead of saying “sneeze” Plath use the onomatopoeic “Achoo.” Using the sound of the sneeze rather than the word “sneeze,” Plath is able to rhyme with the “oo” sound that runs throughout the poem. It is a sound of fear and dread and of surprise and release. It reflects the conflicting emotions that have determined the speaker's life and that are addressed in the poem. The speaker needs her father and needs to be rid of that need. The need for him that haunts her is a little girl's need that has never been satisfied. Consequently, neediness has not let go of the girl, even after she has become a woman. The child inside the adult is conjured by the word “Achoo.” Using the sound instead of the word suggests the child's limited capacity for abstraction and untempered connection to immediacy. “Achoo” also suggests the German word “Achtung,” Attention! Thus, it foreshadows the imagery of Nazi atrocities the speaker will introduce as metaphor for her situation. In addition, using “Achoo” for its sound quality suggests the same thing may be done to its companion rhyme “shoe.” “Shoe” may suggest the onomatopoeic homonym “shoo,” a word spoken along with a dismissive gesture of the wrist, meaning, go away, leave me alone, one of the characteristic themes of “Daddy”
The contemplative address to the shoe in the first stanza gives way in the second to words addressed to the speaker's dead father: “Daddy, I have had to kill you.” The force of the confession is tempered by the irony that, although he is dead, although she has had to break so determinedly with him that it has the force of murder, her father is alive enough in her, for her, that she still can, must, speak to him. The poem, then, is the actual and finalizing act of murder. It is the complaint against him that will sever her from him just by having been spoken. The poem, consequently, is also a defense of murder and an explanation of the necessity for murder. “You died before I had time,—” she says, without repeating the phrase, to kill you, suggesting that there might be something else beside murder which was prevented, but which, now, has been lost.
The underlying matter of the poem is autobiographical. Otto Plath died when Sylvia was eight—in the poem she says ten. It is an age when a child still needs her father, before she reaches the age when she needs to rid herself of her childish attachments in order to become available for mature ones.
- There is an audio recording of Plath reading “Daddy” available on tape called In Their Own Voices: A Century of Recorded Poetry, edited by Rebekah Presson, and distributed by Rhino Entertainment, 1997.
The last three lines of the stanza offer contrasting images of the dead father. Two aspects or two perceptions of him are thus revealed. He is “a bag full of God,” and is consequently “marble heavy” for her. He is also a one-legged cadaver. One of Otto Plath's legs was in fact amputated as a result of the diabetes that actually killed him. His intact leg is shown with a gangrenous big toe sticking out under the sheet covering his corpse. The sight of that toe to his daughter deflates—although it does not destroy—his divinity. The existence of the poem attests to that.
In her description of the big toe, which is introduced as “Big as a Frisco seal,” at the end of the second stanza but developed in the third, Plath introduces into the poem the method by which she can accomplish the murder. The ghastly toe becomes the opportunity for a verbal cadenza, for the exercise of poetry. The poem in this stanza is very deliberately announcing itself as a poem by the display of virtuosity in lines like “Big as a Frisco seal / And a head in the freakish Atlantic / Where it pours bean green over blue / In the waters off beautiful Nauset.” The poet is asserting herself as a poet, as if saying “Look what I can do.” To write like that is to grab hold of one's independence.
Nauset is a beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, near Plath's home. The introduction of Nauset not only enhances the scenery of the poem. It is allusive, suggesting Nausicaa, the girl in Homer's Odyssey. Nausicca is playing on a beach in Greece with her companions when she spots Odysseus, who has been washed up half-dead upon the beach. She rescues him and brings him to her father, in whose court he tells his story. The hint of Nausicaa's presence in “Daddy” provides a counter-image to the murderous girl, the poet who must kill her father, in the image of the savior girl who brings life back to Odysseus, a man old enough to be her father.
Following the display of poetic virtuosity, the poet returns to a straight declarative sentence: “I used to pray to recover you.” “Pray” is particularly apt in the context of having to bear “a bagful of God.” The last line of the stanza abandons sentence structure entirely for a kind of disgusted exclamation, dismissing her father in his mother tongue: “Ach, du,” You. It is not an address but a reflection on how impossible he was.
After the exclamation that ended the third stanza, the fourth begins with a halting return to syntax, but the first three lines are unable to form themselves into a sentence. “In the German tongue, in the Polish town / Scraped flat by the roller / Of wars, wars, wars.” is missing a verb. “Scraped” is only a predicate adjective modifying the Polish town. What about the German tongue or war ravaged Polish town? The next line does not say. It only reveals that “the name of the town is common.” That fact is then supported by two more lines of testimony from the speaker's “Polack friend.” Does the demeaning term suggest her father's snobbery. Why is this important to the poem? Perhaps it indicates how difficult it is for the speaker to focus on the complexity of her relationship with her father.
The fourth stanza spills over into the fifth. The speaker does not even know the specific town in Poland from which her father came, since many have the same name, and the name was German rather than in Polish. This want of knowledge is symptomatic of the entire relationship the poet had with her father. Not knowing where he came from, “I never could talk to you. / The tongue stuck in my jaw.”
Not talking about her father who is so unknowable to her, the poet speaks of his effect on her, of her inability to speak. The fifth stanza ended with a near cliché: her tongue stuck in her jaw when she tried to speak with him. Now she describes that blockage using imagery that has been prepared earlier through references to war and, through references to the German language and black shoes, to Nazism. Her inability to speak is expressed in the image of “a barb wire snare.” That snare is represented linguistically in the repetition four times over of “ich,” the German word for “I.” But the line of “ichs” represents not only the metal thorns of barb wire. It gives voice to a guttural blockage and anger that constitute a prime component of the speaker's character and that lie at the bottom of this poem.
Her tongue somewhat loosened by grinding out angry “ichs,” the poet begins to express that anger in images of Nazi barbarity. She “could hardly speak” to anyone she tells her father. He so invaded her consciousness that she saw him in others: “I thought every German was you.” He has, in addition tainted the German language for her. She calls it “obscene”
Having identified his oppressiveness, she begins to express her anger at her father in a convoluted manner, identifying herself as a victim, his victim, and calling up images of Nazi brutality, identifying herself with the recipients of violence, the Jews taken by cattle cars to extermination terminals, rather than as an agent of anger.
Freely associating around German themes, the speaker segues into what momentarily seems a lyrical invocation of Germanic Austrian pastoral landscapes, the Tyrol and Vienna. But she subverts that lyricism in the next line. “The snows of the Tyrol … /Are not very pure,” and “the clear beer of Vienna / [is] not very … true.” By extension, there is something deceptive about her father's charm. The poet challenges the lie of his authority as well as asserting the power of her vulnerability. Being wounded seems to be a source of insight as she speaks of her “gypsy ancestress and my weird luck” and her pack of Tarot cards, cards that are used in divination and seeing the future.
Returning from the reverie of the preceding stanzas to addressing her father directly, the speaker says she has “always been scared of” him. Rather than addressing that fear directly, Plath returns to metaphor as a means of expressing what was frightening about him without really saying anything specific. She turns her father into a stereotype or caricature, drawing him in the costume of a Nazi and defining him by means of that costume. She really says nothing specific about him when she describes him “With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo. / And your neat mustache / And your Aryan eye, bright blue. / Panzer-man, panzer-man, O you.” She is saying something, however, about herself in relation to him: she feels his awful power the way Jews felt the awful power of their Nazi tormentors.
The Nazi imagery of the last stanzas challenges the sense of divinity that the speaker had indicated, in the second stanza, hovered around her father, but not her sense of his power. “Not God but a swastika,” is the emblem she uses now to define him. The swastika becomes a huge, looming blackness that entirely blots out the sky. “Every woman adores a Fascist,” the poet proceeds to assert without either connection to the preceding lines or substantiation. The line can, consequently, be conceived as a kind of self-defense, an excuse for the affection she has felt for him and apparently still does, despite her response to him as if he were a Nazi. But she does not say “I.” She says “Every woman.” Such generalization absolves her from being responsible for the unwanted affection to which she still is prone. At the same time, by her continuing description of his fascist allure (“The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you”), she is expressing contempt for her own womanish admiration for and her own inclination to surrender to brutality.
Leaving the allusive for the actual, the speaker recalls her actual father not wearing the Nazi uniform with which she had invested him. She refers not to her own memory of him but to a picture of him. He is standing at a blackboard. He was a college teacher. Her evidence of his evil now is the fact that he had a cleft in his chin. This ordinary physical characteristic takes her, by association, to represent him as the devil because the devil is popularly pictured as having a cleft foot. Although the cleft was in his chin and not his foot, she says he is no less the devil.
Her substantiation of his diabolical nature returns her to metaphor. He “Bit my pretty red heart in two,” she says, apparently because, the following line suggests, he died while she was still a child. By dying he broke her heart. Her bitterness is not just the fruit of anger, it seems, but also of an unassimilated grief: “At twenty I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you. / I thought even the bones would do.” The father she began to describe with loathing is actually a man she sought with longing so strong that she tried to realize the great romantic trope of attempting to join him, to meet him, in death.
“But they pulled me out of the sack, / And they stuck me together with glue” she writes. Plath's suicide attempt was unsuccessful and she was treated with electroconvulsive therapy. She was stuck back together, but still stuck with her ambivalent desire for her father. She trumped those who her defeated effort to merge with her father in death with a clever piece of spite work: “I made a model of you / A man with a Meinkampf look.” The stanza ends before the sentence is completed, structurally representing the thread of her life pulling through its various moments.
“And a love of the rack and the screw” finishes the sentence and begins a new stanza but continues old business, although she claims to be “through.” Not being able to join her father in death, she constructed a death-bearing man in life, whom she married, to whom she “said I do, I do.” Because her father did not “do” she said “I do.”
But it was to a man whom she characterizes as a “vampire” who “drank my blood for a year,” she says first but then changes the number to “seven years.” Seven years is actually the amount of time Plath was married to the poet Ted Hughes at the time she wrote “Daddy.” That marriage, at the time she wrote the poem, was disintegrating and, she includes her husband along with her father as one of her victims: “If I've killed one man, I've killed two.” The irony is that she seems rather the victim of both of those men's denial of love. Only in the angry, love-hungry fantasy of her poem are they her victims. Marriage, although unsuccessful, perhaps just because it was unsuccessful and required a second “killing,” unbound her from her father, whom she has, figuratively, roused from death. He is the one to whom she is confessing in this confessional poem. The confession made, he “can lie back now.”
The image of the vampire she attached to her husband reverts to her father. She addresses him as if he has been killed in the only way a vampire can be killed, with a stake through his heart. Unlike hers, which she described in stanza twelve as “pretty red” his is a “fat black heart.”
The poem concludes as the speaker transposes her feelings onto a whole group of people. As before, through all the Nazi imagery, the speaker transforms the offense against her into a larger offense against an entire community of people, so weak is her ego in a reality the poem cannot change: “And the villagers never liked you / They are dancing and stamping on you. They always knew it was you.” The final line “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through,” is ambiguous. At first glance, it seems to be saying, I am through with you; I have exorcised you successfully, killed your hold on me. But the word “you” does not appear. It seems what she is actually doing in the last line is saying that she has finished speaking to him, finished her confession, finished the poem, succeeded in the assertion of herself accomplished by her invocation of him. But he is still a “bastard” and his ability to keep a hold on her despite all her poetic bravado is confirmed by that angry word.
There is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of “Daddy.” The poet needs to kill her father in order to liberate herself from her love for him, yet she needs to tell her father that she has killed him in order for her to satisfy that need to kill him. Thus she needs to have him alive for her in order to experience for herself his death. Killing him is, in actuality, her way of showing her anger at a need for him that she does not experience as being gratified.
The theme of death, pervasive in Plath's work and in her life—The Bell Jar is an account of her first suicide attempt in 1953—hovers over “Daddy.” It appears as the inconclusive death of the poet's father, the slaughter of the European Jews by the Nazis, the poet's own attempt at suicide, the recurring wars that have marred the landscape of history, and the poet's own need to kill her already dead father in order to obliterate his presence within her once and for all.
Implicitly, “Daddy” is a poem of purgation, written to liberate the poet from the ghost of her relationship with her father. Purgation through an act of murdering the pollutant is the overt method of cleansing Plath speaks of in the poem, but it appears that writing the poem is in itself the real purgative action. The poet, by writing her situation and separating her psychic tangles, is attempting to achieve and enact the power to govern and define her psychic reality herself, taking the power back from her father.
Resentment, broken down into its components, means to feel again. The person who reveals herself as the speaker of “Daddy” is haunted and driven by resentment. Feelings that might have expired still breathe within her and determine her overall emotional condition, which is resentment against her father. The poem itself is an expression of that resentment, not an attempt to extirpate it but to satisfy it. Plath's real-life suicide a few months after composing the poem shows that resentment, when it festers, cannot be satisfied. It can only be momentarily allayed, but it recharges and demands repeated release.
“Every woman adores a Fascist, / The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you” has become one of the best known lines not just from this poem but from the entirety of the Plath canon. It gives expression to a fundamental masochism Plath asserts is an inherent component of an abstract, female psyche. Whether the assertion is actually true or not, it is a governing defense for the attitude of the poet and a fundamental explanation of her malaise. She loves a father who not only did not reciprocate that love, but whose manner towards her was such that the only thing she could attach her love for him to was his cruelty. She is in the paradoxical situation of seeing herself as an archetypal victim, symbolized by the image of the Jews who were carried to extermination in cattle cars. At the same time as she is being destroyed, she is erotically overwhelmed by the power that is destroying her, wishing, against her will, to submit to it for the strange frisson such surrender can offer. Love for her father has become the dominant mechanism of her libidinal interest. Her identification with his power to obliterate her leads her to attempt suicide. When that fails, she finds a more subtle method of self obliteration, spite: “And then I knew what to do. / I made a model of you, / A man in black with a Meinkampf look / And a love of the rack and the screw. / And I said I do, I do.” She deliberately recapitulated her father, particularly in his brutal aspects, in a husband. But her choice is not a pure exercise of masochism. She was setting up for herself the opportunity to accomplish her father's death by killing her husband, whom she describes, with masochistic relish at her power to withstand assault as she experiences it—“The vampire who said he was you / And drank my blood for a year, / Seven years if you want to know.” The masochism she perversely celebrates is a cover under which she hides her own sadistic wishes.
“Daddy” is a poem whose grammatical mode is the declarative sentence used in the service of the assertions that give the poem both its strength and its ambiguity, for the assertions, from the first “You do not do” to “They always knew it was you,” as strongly and elaborately delivered as they are, are presented without substantiation.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Using “Daddy” as a basis, write an “answer poem,” written by Plath's father from his point of view.
- Write an essay describing your relationship to one of your parents or to a strong parental figure in your life.
- Research the subject of feminism and present a report to your class describing what the expectations were that shaped the roles males and females were expected to play in society. How does “Daddy” reflect, or not reflect, feminism and traditional gender roles?
- Construct a collage of images from the 1960s that reflects the concerns and sensibilities in “Daddy.”
Assonance and Consonance
Rhyme is usually a phenomenon that occurs at the end of a line when the sound of one word at a line's end echoes the sound of another word ending a previous line. Assonance and consonance are varieties of rhyme that appear inside the lines of a poem. They occur when vowel sounds (assonance) and consonant sounds (consonance) repeat, reflect, or suggest each other throughout the body of a poem. In “Daddy,” Plath relies heavily on both these sorts of internal rhymes. Most prominent is the “oo” sound, introduced emphatically in the first line, that dominates the aural texture of the poem. But even a cursory perusal of the poem reveals such combinations as “In which I have lived like a foot.” where the sound of the short “i” is prominent, “v” and “l” are repeated, as are the related “t” and “d.” Just about every line will yield to such aural analysis.
Onomatopoeia refers to the use of a sound to signify the thing that makes that sound. “Daddy” is replete with it, starting with the last word of the first stanza, and occurring in words like “chuffing” and “scraped,” and “gobbledygoo.”
Plath uses repetition throughout “Daddy,” beginning in the first line of the poem, where the first four words are repeated exactly and continuing the technique with variations, as in “In the German tongue, in the Polish town,” or “I could hardly speak / I thought every German,” or the number of lines beginning with “I.” Repetition gives the poem a rhythm of insistence that reflects the intensity of the narrator's obsession with her subject, her father.
In part the rise of confessional poetry in the 1950s was a response to the difficulties of hermetic academic poetry, to the learned and allusive work of poets like the highly influential Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, and to the puzzling complexities of stripped down modernism with its forests of symbols and obscure imagery. The confessional poetry of American poets like Robert Lowell, who practiced making poetry out of his family history and his own personal and often agonizing experience, or of W. D. Snodgrass, who wrote addressing his daughter about his separation from her because of divorce, brought a new range of subjects and opened a new realm of discourse for poets, their life experiences, anxieties, losses, shameful moments. Although confessional poetry as a genre was new, a poetry of confession was not. Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats, for example, all wrote poems that are essentially confessional. What distinguished the confessional poetry of the second half of the twentieth century was its closeness to the bone of its practitioners' experience and the climate in which it was produced, its depth of revelation in a culture of conformity where “dirty laundry” was not, properly, aired in public.
In 1963, the same year that the poems in Ariel were written and that Plath killed herself, an American journalist and union activist, Betty Friedan, who had graduated from Smith college thirteen years before Plath, published The Feminine Mystique and ushered in what is called the second wave of feminism in the United States. (The first wave ended when (white) women in the United States won the right to vote in 1919.) The second wave brought to the surface problems of female inequality, diminished opportunity, biological determinism—because women can bear children, women must bear children—and social and sexual freedom. Plath herself, who became a powerful presence for late twentieth-century feminism, was not a feminist but a woman whose turmoil and experience served to explain and justify the eruption of feminism. Caught between her own genius as a poet, her savage intellect, and sharp, indignant insights on the one hand and the gender expectations and roles women (and men) were trained to believe were inherent aspects of human nature, Plath, particularly because of her grim and tragic response to the contradictions that bedeviled her, became a model for many well-educated young women who resisted the roles that awaited them independent of their individual characteristics or desires.
Plath's comparison of herself to a Jew and her allusions to “your Aryan eye, bright blue,” “Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen,” “an engine / Chuffing,” “a swastika,” and the “Luftwaffe,” as well as a “neat mustache” and “a Meinkampf look” all allude to what has come to be called the Holocaust or the Shoa. The Holocaust was the deliberate and carefully executed extermination of the majority of the population of European Jewry. This was carried out in Nazi Germany during the period beginning with Adolph Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933 and ending in 1945, when the Allied Forces of the Soviet Union, the United States, and Great Britain defeated Germany at the end of World War II. Hitler, a man with a trademark black moustache, mobilized the German people particularly with the tool of anti-Semitism and by promulgating the racist idea that there was a “master race” of Aryans, notable for their blue eyes, and inferior races, like the Jews, who were compared to vermin in Nazi propaganda. Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Dachau are the names of death camps where Jews were taken to be gassed and then cremated. Mein Kampf is the name of the book Hitler wrote around 1925 during a relatively brief imprisonment for leading his followers in subversive and violent demonstrations. Mein Kampf sets forth the Nazi ideology and expresses Hitler's anti-Jewish stance. The Luftwaffe was Hitler's air force. The incomprehensible, open, and proud barbarity of the Nazis hovered throughout the 1950s and beyond as the indelible emblem of brutality and cruelty.
COMPARE & CONTRAST
- 1962: The great changes that feminism will bring about at the end of the 1960s have not yet occurred. Women, even if they are college graduates, are still expected to pursue the role of homemaker and mother, perhaps devoting some time to charity work or the Parent Teachers Association, but essentially dedicating themselves to domesticity.
Today: Many women enter the corporate world and can attain high positions within their companies. Many women also balance, or at least attempt to balance, the demands of work with the demands of motherhood.
- 1962: Psychological and emotional distress is still commonly treated by electroconvulsive therapy, as it has been since the 1940s and throughout the 1950s (when Plath was subjected to it). Sometimes called “electroshock therapy,” it resets the brain in a process that can be said to be similar to rebooting a computer.
Today: Electroconvulsive therapy is still used but less regularly and in a more carefully regulated fashion than it was in the 1950s and early 1960s. Medication is the favored means of dealing with psychological and emotional disturbances.
- 1962: The Cold War, a power struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia) and some of its neighboring states, is at its height as United States President John Kennedy and Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev confront each other with the threat of nuclear war.
Today: The Soviet threat has been replaced in the United States by the threat of a worldwide terrorism that is not located in one particular country but is often represented by the terms “Al Qaeda” or “Jihad.”
- 1962: Germany, as a result of its defeat in World War II, is a country divided into two countries, West Germany and East Germany. That division is symbolized by the Berlin Wall, built in 1961 in order to prevent the people of East Berlin from fleeing to West Berlin.
Today: Germany was reunited after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and its citizens can now freely travel inside and outside Germany.
Linda W. Wagner reports in Critical Essays on Sylvia Plath that the critic George Steiner has called “Daddy” “the Guernica of modern poetry,” comparing Plath's poem to Pablo Picasso's monumental 1937 painting depicting the sufferings of Spaniards under the violence of the Nazi bombardment during the Spanish Civil war. “Daddy,” like Guernica, Steiner asserts, “achieves the classic art of generalization, translating a private, obviously intolerable hurt into a code of plain statement, of instantaneously public images which concern us all.” Wagner also cites Katha Pollit, writing in the Nation in 1982. Pollit declares that “by the time she [Plath] came
to write her last seventy or eighty poems, there was no voice like hers on earth.”
Indeed, during the second wave of feminism in the late 1960s and in the 1970s, “Daddy” became a feminist anthem, a sort of “We Shall Overcome” of the Women's Liberation Movement. It was a poem immediately accessible to readers outside academia. It had the force of a social provocation. Gary Lane declares in Sylvia Plath: New Views on the Poetry that “Plath has grown into a cult figure. … For some she became the symbol of woman oppressed.” Toni Saldívar argues in Sylvia Plath: Confessing the Fictive Self that in “Daddy” “the speaker negates a paternal bond by emptying out an image of father and of husband as a repeat of father until that image is itself unfathered and thus finished.” “The effectiveness of ‘Daddy,’” A. R. Jones writes in The Art of Sylvia Plath: A Symposium, “can largely be accounted for by Sylvia Plath's success in associating the world of the poem with [the] structure of the nursery rhyme world, a world of carefully contained terror in which rhythm and tone are precariously weighed against content to produce a hardly achieved balance of tensions.” Roger Platizky, writing in the Explicator in 1997, notes: “Images of victimization … of Nazis, swastikas, barbed wire, fascists, brutes, devils, and vampires—are so frantic, imposing, and vituperative that the poem seems more out of control than it actually is.” He then goes on to compare “Daddy” to “a runaway train,” but he argues that Plath's formal mastery of poetic technique asserts her power over her tormentors in the poem and over the poem itself.
Heims is a writer and teacher living in Paris. In the following essay, he considers the importance of a very interesting omission in “Daddy”: while the poet condemns her father, she does not actually say what he has done to make him worthy of her intense scorn.
“Daddy” can be read as a very angry poem, even a mad poem. It lends itself to such a reading just by its rhythm and by the fact that most of its words are monosyllabic (one syllable) and many of its syllables echo each other, repeating similar sounds and rhythms. It is a poem of “telling off,” of finally saying just what is on your mind. Its imagery of Nazi criminals and death camps crowd their way into its center along with references to a boot stomping on the face and a heart-destroying vampire. Most significantly, it is a poem written only months before the poet killed herself. But, when one listens to Plath's reading of the poem on In Their Own Voices: A Century of Recorded Poetry, one can hear something else. Her reading does not have the quality of a fierce poet ranting, out of control, blisteringly spitting out a catalogue of condemnations. It is a rather dry reading of a very carefully constructed text. She is petulant, flirtatious, spiteful, taunting, and there is a sense of anger in her voice. But it is all very controlled, almost theatrical. The anger is cold, resigned anger. She would prefer, it seems, that she had not needed to be angry, the tone of the lines suggests. This realization is almost funny to her, for the poem is witty and pleased with itself, almost smug in its proficiency. All the distancing, posing, and awareness that Plath builds into the text—the layering—make the anger something different from a simple flash of personal rage. It is a studied anger that looks forward to cruelty whether received or given. Rather than expressing her own personal anger, the poet is conveying an attitude of anger. It is more like an intellectual anger than a vulnerable, emotional one. It is a cultivated rather than an explosive anger.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- Robert Lowell's Life Studies (1959) is a collection of Lowell's confessional poetry. In poems like “Skunk Hour,” “Man and Wife,” “Memories of West Street and Lephe,” “Waking in the Blue,” and “Grandparents,” Lowell reveals parts of his life and describes the intersection between autobiographical events and his deepest responses to them.
- Kate Millet's Sexual Politics (1969) exerted a tremendous cultural influence on American gender consciousness and was one of the principle texts of the Women's Movement in the 1970s.
- Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970) is a classic radical feminist text in which Firestone examines and criticizes the patterns of culture that have formed the social and cultural constructs of female and male.
- William Wordsworth's The Prelude (1850) is a book-length epic poem, but Wordsworth took for the subject of the poem the events of his own life and the development of his mind and ideas.
- Grace Paley's collection of stories The Little Disturbances of Man (1959) presents the lives of various women at various ages and stages of life as they cope with gender definition, expectations, growth, men, and love.
But whether “Daddy” is read with fierceness or detachment, there is still the question: What is the poet angry at, exactly? We know at whom, her father. But why? Because he died of diabetes? Perhaps. Abandonment is abandonment, no matter what the reason, especially to a ten year old. But his death is not the full reason for her anger at him, if it is even a part. The fact of his death is introduced to show that he died before she could kill him, so she has got to kill him instead in the poem. Thus, according to the speaker of the poem, her wanting to kill him is not the result of his dying when she was ten. The poem is a kind of declaration or catalogue not of his faults, but of the way his faults felt to her. She must make him disappear by her willing it, freeing herself from being the victim of the circumstance of his death. In order to be able to kill him with impunity, she must construct and represent him as the very model of evil. The poet's father's actual death and the death he will suffer at her hand are very different things. In actuality he is dead. To his daughter, he is immortal. The poet does not kill him; she constructs and controls his image. That is her power as a poet, and it is the power of poetry. In the actual world, his death is a natural fact. Killing him in poetry is a psychic fact, accomplished by turning him into a vampire. But who, then, is really the vampire? She feeds her anger and her poem with his blood.
Indeed, the poet's father, dead in the world, remains alive in her as a perceived cause of her rage and an object of it. The question remains, why is she so angry? For all its showy eloquence, the poem leaves the reason unstated. The effects of her anger, how anger at her father makes her feel, her picture of him, these are expressed. But what he actually did to her, besides dying, is not. “Daddy” says nothing about what happened to the speaker, what he did to her, only what it felt like.
Yet, the poem remains powerful. It is talking about some wrong, some injustice, some brutality, but not the brutality that forms the metaphorical content regarding Nazis and vampires. Instead the poem represents a way of feeling that readers can identify with, a sense of ill-treatment recognizable as one's own. Plath's “luck,” the “weird luck” that seems to arise from “gypsy ancestr[y]” and that gives her the visionary power of a reader of Tarot cards, is the luck of history. It is the luck that gives her not the fate of the tormented Jew but the vision of that persecution. It is a luck derived from her own psychic experience, and her response to it and to the social malaise that finds its expression in feminism (for feminism is a response to a perception of widespread and systemic persecution by a system privileging males and demeaning females). It is a vision of patriarchy as a fundamentally evil system that defines a certain category of persons as less than persons, as a lower order. This is where the Nazi and the patriarchal systems converge.
What tends to weaken the narrator's confession, the lack of specific charges against her father, strengthens her poem as a vehicle for drawing reader response. The passion of her reaction to the unstated injuries and the way she demonizes them is an easily transferable emotion accessible to anyone. What may be of no great proportion objectively and under the aspect of eternity may take up, as it is experienced, all the psychic space there is. Plath's image of the “swastika [the twisted cross composed by four sevens whose stems touch at right angles to each other and that was the primary emblem of the Nazi Party] / So black no sky could squeak through” is an image of the overwhelming psychic perception of the experience of being stifled. Her father is transformed from the man he was, whatever he was actually like, into a symbol of stifling itself, of patriarchy, and the abstract designation for the system of female negation. The poet's response to him is a model for the response to the psychic tremors created by a sense of having been, in one's deepest core, obliterated.
There is strength in numbers, especially for anyone who feels marginalized and for the solitary sufferer of an injustice. In “Daddy,” Plath relies heavily for vindication of her anger on the broader community, first of women, and then of women and men, as characterized by the image of “the villagers.” “Every woman adores a Fascist,” she writes. Whether this is a valid and true assertion is of little importance in the poem or for the poem. After all, it is a poem, a personal, confessional poem. What is revealing about the formulation is that the poet moves, with it, away from the “I” that she has used until then. In just the previous stanza, she wrote “I have always been scared of you.” But now she does not say “I adore a Fascist,” which would be a valuable personal insight, but “Every woman” The narrator now has set the stage for an entire disavowal of the personal. The venom she felt and the condemnation she expressed throughout, in the final stanza becomes generalized rather than hers: “the villagers never liked you. / They are dancing and stamping on you. / They always knew it was you.” The problem is not hers but everybody's. The angry dismissal and the happy revenge are not hers. They are everybody's. The emotion the poem generates is greater than the untold sins of her father. The effect is to universalize the object of her wrath. It is not her father who becomes the object of her scorn and her readers's scorn but the system of elevating fathers; the object of her scorn is patriarchy itself.
Source: Neil Heims, Critical Essay on “Daddy,” in Poetry for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2008.
Guinevara A. Nance and Judith P. Jones
In the following excerpt, Nance and Jones consider the psychological aspects of the infantile regression that is suggested by some of the language in “Daddy.” They also discuss the corresponding transformation of childish love into adult venom.
Sylvia Plath's ironic reference to two of her most venomous poems, “Lady Lazarus” and “Daddy,” as “some light verse” shows an aesthetic distance that not many of her readers have been able to achieve. Alvarez recalls that when Plath first read these two poems to him, he responded to them more as “assault and battery” than as poetry. Subsequent critical responses to “Daddy” in particular have reacted to the most grizzly stanzas in categorizing the poem as symbolic enactment of patricide and have accentuated its macabre quality by focusing on the parallels between the daddy of the poem and Plath's own father. Readings of the poem as a ritualistic murder have overlooked evidence that the father—whether purely an artistic construct or a derivative of the poet's father—is the fabrication of a persona who attempts to exorcise her childish view of her daddy. Plath has said that “the poemis spoken by a girl with an Electra complex” whose “father died while she thought he was God.” Significantly, she refers to the thirty-year old person as a “girl,” for the psychological restrictions of an infantile love and fear of the father have retarded the possibility of autonomy. In the declaration that “You do not do, you do not do / Any more, black shoe,” the speaker recognizes as untenable her puerile perspective of daddy; and the poem depicts her attempts to free herself from an image which she created of the father as deity and demon. Anthony Libby comes closest to recognizing the speaker's participation in the creation of her father when he says that she is as much operator as victim: “She creates the man in black … and she finally destroys him” in a destruction that is “internal and theoretical.” The process of doing away with daddy in the poem represents the persona's attempts at psychic purgation of the image, “the model,” of a father she has constructed. Her methods, however, are more akin to magic than murder, since it is through a combination of exorcism and sympathetic magic that she works to dispossess herself of her own fantasies.
The first twelve stanzas of the poem reveal the extent of the speaker's possession by what, in psychoanalytic terms, is the imago of the father—a childhood version of the father which persists into adulthood. This imago is an amalgamation of real experience and archetypal memories wherein the speaker's own psychic oppression is represented in the more general symbol of the Nazi oppression of the Jews. For example, the man at the blackboard in the picture of the actual father is transformed symbolically into the “man in black with a Meinkampf look.” The connecting link, of course, between each of these associations is the word “black,” which also relates to the shoe in which the speaker has lived and the swastika “So black no sky could squeak through.” Thus the specific and personal recollections ignite powerful associations with culturally significant symbols. The fact that the girl is herself “a bit of a Jew” and a bit of a German intensifies her emotional paralysis before the imago of an Aryan father with whom she is both connected and at enmity. Commenting on the persona in a BBC interview, Plath herself suggests that the two strains of Nazi and Jew unite in the daughter “and paralyze each other”; so the girl is doubly incapacitated to deal with her sense of her father, both by virtue of her mixed ethnicity and her childish perspective. As the persona recalls the father of her early years, she emphasizes and blends the two perspectives of impotence: that of the child before its father and of the Jew before the Nazi. The child's intimidation is clear, for example, in “I never could talk to you. / The tongue stuck in my Jaw”; but the sense of the childhood terror melds into a suggestion of the Jewish persecution and terror with the next line: “It stuck in a barb wire snare.”
What Plath accomplishes by the more or less chronological sequencing of these recollections of childhood, and on through the twenty year old's attempted suicide to the point at thirty when the woman tries to extricate hersel from her image of daddy, is a dramatization of the process of psychic purgation in the speaker. The persona's systematic recollection of all the mental projections of her father amounts to an attempt at dispossession through direct confrontation with a demon produced in her imagination. Both psychoanalysis and the religious rite of exorcism have regarded this process of confrontation with the “trauma” or the “demon” as potentially curative; and from whichever perspective Plath viewed the process, she has her persona confront—in a way almost relive—her childhood terror of a father whose actual existence is as indistinct as the towns with which the girl tries to associate him. Plath also accentuates linguistically the speaker's re-living of her childhood. Using the heavy cadences of nursery rhyme and baby words such as “Chuffing,” “Achoo,” and “gobbledygoo,” she employs a technical device similar to Joyce's in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where the child's simple perspective reflected through language. Like Joyce, Plath wants to recreate with immediacy the child's view. But whereas Joyce evolves his Stephen Dedalus from the “baby tuckoo” and the “moocow” stage into maturity, she has her speaker psychically regress to her childhood fantasies, where every German is potentially her father and the German language seems to be an engine “chuffing” her off to Dachau. Because the persona's past is pathologically connected to her present, this regression requires minimal distance for the adult woman who has been unable to relinquish the childish perspective.
The tough, even brutal, language to which Alvarez reacted provides an ironic contrast to the language associated with a child's vision of “daddy.” This juxtaposition is most evident in the early lines:
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
It is inaccurate to see this last statement entirely as a suggestion of patricide, for the persona's threat is against the infantile version of the father which the word “daddy” connotes. These lines accentuate the irony of the impotent little girl's directing her rage at a monumental fantasy father.
As the language of the poem begins to exclude baby talk and to develop more exclusively the vocabulary of venom, it signals a change in the persona's method of dealing with this image of the father. She moves from confrontation with her childhood projections to an abjuration of the total psychic picture of the father in an attempt at exorcism. Sounding more like Clytemnestra than a little girl playing Electra, she renounces the deity turned demon with a vengeance in the declaration, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.” The virulence of this and the statements immediately preceding it indicates a ritualistic attempt to transform the little girl's love into the adult's hatred and thereby kill the image which has preyed upon her.
The turning point in the poem and in the speaker's efforts to purge herself of the psychological significance of the father image occurs in the following stanza:
But they pulled me out of the sack.
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you.
The statement, “I made a model of you,” suggests several levels of meaning. On the most obvious level, the speaker implies that she made of her father a prototype of all men; and this is borne out in the merging of the father with the man to whom she says “I do, I do.” Her image of the “man in black with a Meinkampf look” is superimposed upon the husband so that instead of having one unreality to destroy, she has two—the prototypic father and the husband who is fashioned in his likeness. The poem “Stings” establishes a similar relationship between the dead-imaginary father and the living but spectral husband:
A third person is watching.
He has nothing to do with the bee-seller or
Now he is gone
In eight great bounds, a great scapegoat.
A more complicated implication of the speaker's action in making a model of the father, but one which is also consonant with the allusions to folklore in the later references to vampirism, concerns the persona's use of magic to rid herself of the mental impressions associated with her father. The making of a model, image, or effigy suggests symbolically a reaction not so much to the real father but to the imago, or projection of his image in the mind of the persona. She employs what Frazer in The Golden Bough refers to as “sympathetic magic”—a generic term for various forms of magic which are based on the premise that a correspondence exists between animate and inanimate objects. One form, homeopathic magic, is predicated on the belief that any representation may affect what it depicts. For example, a picture of a person, a voodoo doll, or any other sort of portrayal can, when acted upon, influence its prototype. In “Daddy,” it is the model of the father that the persona destroys; and the solution suggested in the making of the model seems to occur as a consequence of its association with the speaker's own reconstruction after her attempted suicide, when she is “stuck … together with glue.” Her remodeling, described in a way that recalls the assembling of a collage, seems to be the associative stimulus for the idea of constructing the model through which to effect her dispossession. It is this model, a fabricated representation of a distorted vision of the father—a patchwork mental impression of him—that she seeks to destroy.
Ironically, of course, she is also destroying a portion of her own psychological constitution with which she has lived, however detrimentally, all of her life. With the special significance which Carl Jung gives to the the idea of “image” as a “concentrated expression of the total psychic situation,” it is obvious that in attempting to destroy her image of the father, the persona risks total psychic destruction for herself. The final words of the poem, “I'm through,” which have been so variously interpreted, imply both that the magic has worked its power of dispossession and also that the speaker is left with nothing. Dispossessed of the imago which has defined her own identity and with which she has been obsessed, she is psychically finished, depleted. The villagers, in a kind of ritual death dance, demolish the model of the father, both as it is representative of daddy and of the shadowy vampire-husband behind whose mask that image lurks; and in a final excoriation reminiscent of exorcism rites in which the pride of Satan is attacked by calling him vile names, the daughter declares, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.” The ambiguity which Plath creates here in the multiple meanings of “through” indicates the irony of the persona's finishment. Her freedom from the father image which she has created leaves her psychologically void, done in …
Source: Guinevara A. Nance and Judith P. Jones, “Doing Away with Daddy: Exorcism and Sympathetic Magic in Plath's Poetry,” in Critical Essays on Sylvia Plath, edited by Linda W. Wagner, G. K. Hall, 1984, pp. 124-29.
Mary Lynn Broe
In the following excerpt, Broe regards “Daddy” as a failed attempt at the ritual exorcism of the speaker's father and her image of him.
… The speaker in “Daddy” performs a mock poetic exorcism of an event that has already happened—the death of her father who she feels withdrew his love from her by dying prematurely: “Daddy, I have had to kill you. / You died before I had time—.”
The speaker attempts to exorcise not just the memory of her father but her own Mein Kampf model of him as well as her inherited behavioral traits that lead her graveward under the Freudian banner of death instinct or Thanatos's libido. But her ritual reenactment simply does not take. The event comically backfires as pure self-parody: the metaphorical murder of the father dwindles into Hollywood spectacle, while the poet is lost in the clutter of the collective unconscious.
Early in the poem, the ritual gets off on the wrong foot both literally and figuratively. A sudden rhythmic break midway through the first stanza interrupts the insistent and mesmeric chant of the poet's own freedom:
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.
The break suggests, on the one hand, that the nursery-rhyme world of contained terror is here abandoned; on the other, that the poetexorcist's mesmeric control is superficial, founded in a shaky faith and an unsure heart—the worst possible state for the strong, disciplined exorcist.
At first she kills her father succinctly with her own words, demythologizing him to a ludicrous piece of statuary that is hardly a Poseidon or the Colossus of Rhodes:
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one grey toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Then as she tries to patch together the narrative of him, his tribal myth (the “common” town, the “German tongue,” the war-scraped culture), she begins to lose her own powers of description to a senseless Germanic prattle (“The tongue stuck in my jaw. / It stuck in a barb wire snare. / Ich, ich, ich, ich”). The individual man is absorbed by his inhuman archetype, the “panzer man,” “an engine / Chuffing me off like a Jew.” Losing the exorcist's power that binds the spirit and then casts out the demon, she is the classic helpless victim of the swastika man. As she culls up her own picture of him as a devil, he refuses to adopt this stereotype. Instead he jumbles his trademark:
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
The overt Nazi-Jew allegory throughout the poem suggests that, by a simple inversion of power, father and daughter grow more alike. But when she tries to imitate his action of dying, making all the appropriate grand gestures, she once again fails: “but they pulled me out of the sack, / And they stuck me together with glue.” She retreats to a safe world of icons and replicas, but even the doll image she constructs turns out to be “the vampire who said he was you.” At last, she abandons her father to the collective unconscious where it is he who is finally recognized (“they always knew it was you”). She is lost, impersonally absorbed by his irate persecutors, bereft of both her power and her conjuror's discipline, and possessed by the incensed villagers. The exorcist's ritual, one of purifying, cleansing, commanding silence and then ordering the evil spirit's departure, has dwindled to a comic picture from the heart of darkness. Mad villagers stamp on the devil-vampire creation.
In the course of performing the imaginative “killing,” the speaker moves through a variety of emotions, from viciousness (“a stake in your fat black heart”), to vengefulness (“You bastard, I'm through”), finally to silence (“the black telephone's off at the root”). It would seem that the real victim is the poet-performer who, despite her straining toward identification with the public events of holocaust and destruction of World War II, becomes more murderously persecuting than the “panzer-man” who smothered her, and who abandoned her with a paradoxical love, guilt, and fear. Unlike him, she kills three times: the original subject, the model to whom she said “I do, I do,” and herself, the imitating victim. But each of these killings is comically inverted. Each backfires. Instead of successfully binding the spirits, commanding them to remain silent and cease doing harm, and then ordering them to an appointed place, the speaker herself is stricken dumb.
The failure of the exorcism and the emotional ambivalence are echoed in the curious rhythm. The incantatory safety of the nursery-rhyme thump (seemingly one of controlled, familiar terrors) also suggests some sinister brooding by its repetition. The poem opens with a suspiciously emphatic protest, a kind of psychological whistling-in-the-dark. As it proceeds, “Daddy's” continuous life-rhythms—the assonance, consonance, and especially the sustained oo sounds—triumph over either the personal or the cultural-historical imagery. The sheer sense of organic life in the interwoven sounds carries the verse forward in boisterous spirit and communicates an underlying feeling of comedy that is also echoed in the repeated failure of the speaker to perform her exorcism.
Ultimately, “Daddy” is like an emotional, psychological, and historical autopsy, a final report. There is no real progress. The poet is in the same place in the beginning as in the end. She begins the poem as a hesitant but familiar fairytale daughter who parodies her attempt to reconstruct the myth of her father. Suffocating in her shoe house, she is unable to do much with that “bag full of God.” She ends as a murderous member of a mythical community enacting theritual or vampire killing, but only for a surrogate vampire, not the real thing (“the vampire who said he was you”). Although it seems that the speaker has moved from identification with the persecuted to identity as persecutor, Jew to vampire-killer, powerless to powerful, she has simply enacted a performance that allows her to live with what is unchangeable. She has used her art to stave off suffocation, and performs her self-contempt with a degree of bravado …
Source: Mary Lynn Broe, “A Performing Self: ‘the theatrical / comeback in broad day,’” in Protean Poetic: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath, University of Missouri Press, 1980, pp. 165-79.
Jones, A. R., “On ‘Daddy,’” in The Art of Sylvia Plath: A Symposium, edited by Charles Newman, University of Indiana Press, 1970, pp. 230-36.
Lane, Gary, Introduction, in Sylvia Plath: New Views on the Poetry, edited by Gary Lane, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979, p. ix.
Plath, Sylvia, “Daddy,” in Ariel, Faber and Faber, 1972, pp. 54-56.
Platizky, Roger, “Plath's ‘Daddy,’” in the Explicator, Winter 1997, Vol. 55, No. 2, p. 105.
Presson, Rebekah, ed., In Their Own Voices: A Century of Recorded Poetry (audiotape), Rhino Entertainment, 1997.
Saldívar, Toni, Sylvia Plath: Confessing the Fictive Self, Peter Lang, 1992, p. 180-81.
Wagner, Linda W., Critical Essays on Sylvia Plath, G.K Hall, 1984, pp. 1-2.
Bassnet, Susan, Sylvia Plath, Rowman & Littlefield, 1987.
Bassnet argues that Plath's poetry ought not be read as strictly autobiographical, but as works that set contradictions of experience and response against each other.
Friedan, Betty, The Feminine Mystique, W. W. Norton, 1963.
Published the same year Plath died, Friedan's classic study of how women's social roles and psychic make-up were constructed reflects the tensions Plath herself faced as a young woman coming of age in the years following World War II.
Plath, Sylvia, The Bell Jar, Harper & Row, 1971.
Plath's only novel draws strongly on her personal experience, chronicling the summer of 1953 when Plath was working in New York City for a fashion magazine, her growing distress, her suicide attempt, her electroshock treatments, and her return to ‘normal’ life.
Rose, Jacqueline, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath, Virago Press, 1991.
Among other things, Rose addresses and defends the presence of Holocaust references and imagery in “Daddy.”
Wood, David John, A Critical Study of the Birth Imagery of Sylvia Plath, American Poet 1932-1963, Edwin Mellen Press, 1992.
Wood reads the body of Plath's poetry as one essential poem divided into a number of parts, and argues that there is a unifying theme and set of images throughout suggesting birth and coming into being.