Daddy Issues: The Interpretation of the Father-Dominated Family in Sylvia Plath’s “The Colossus” and Sharon Olds’ “Saturn” Throughout traditional American society, the father has almost always been seen as the head of the household. Only in more recent decades have more varied family structures become common. The lives of Sylvia Plath and Sharon Olds are both reﬂective of the father-dominated family, and they represent this notion in their poetry. In “The Colossus” Plath writes about her internal struggle with her father’s death. In life, Plath’s father was rarely involved in the lives of his children. This longing for the unrequited love of her father resulted in a personal quest to build the
SE-38 The Interpretation of the Father-Dominated Family
relationship they never had, represented in the poem by the protagonist’s efforts to rebuild the fallen Colossus of Rhodes. In “Saturn” Olds deals with her own issues with her father—mirroring his alcoholism and its effect on his family to the mythical tale of the Roman god Saturn devouring his sons. Both poems make allusions to mythical deities as a metaphor for the dominance of a father over the family. The protagonist’s obsession in “The Colossus” with restoring the great fallen statue of Helios and Olds’ comparison of alcoholism to the myth of Saturn both represent that a father’s actions—in life and in death— have a lasting psychological effect on his children. Sylvia Plath’s struggle with overcoming the loss of her father is one of the dominant themes in “The Colossus.” In the poem the protagonist attempts to restore the fallen Colossus of Rhodes. The Colossus was an over 100 ft. bronze statue depicting the Greek god Helios, which is among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It stood overlooking the harbor of the
The Interpretation of the Father-Dominated Family SE-39
city of Rhodes, Greece until it fell during an earthquake in 225 BC. Plath uses this godly efﬁgy as a metaphor for the image she has of her father. Plath’s father died when she was eight years old—a time when most children are still dominated completely by their parents, instilling in them a view of their parents as gods. When Plath lost her father during this period, his towering image froze solid and shattered simultaneously, his “ﬂuted bones and acanthine hair” (line 20) lying in ruin in her mind. Plath uses an image of the Roman Forum to connect those of her dead father and the Colossus: “O father, all by yourself / You are pithy and historical as the Roman Forum” (17-18). The Roman Forum is no longer a functional structure, but its ruins still exist, just like the ruins of the Colossus and Plath’s vague memory of her father. Plath, through the poem’s protagonist, is trying to restore the shattered Colossus of her father, “dredg[ing] the silt from [his] throat” (9) in order to understand the god she never knew. Her protagonist’s
SE-40 The Interpretation of the Father-Dominated Family
rebuilding of the Colossus was the closest Plath could ever come to obtaining the relationship with her father that had eluded her during his life. This interpretation of the Colossus as being not only a metaphor for Plath’s father but also a hypothetical replacement for him is understandable considering the psychological aspects of the fatherdaughter relationship. A girl’s relationship with her father is an integral part of her childhood development. According to Shari Jonas, “the desire [for girls] to be loved by [their] dads is a deep, emotional need” (“Effects”). Jonas goes on to explain that if a girl is denied a relationship with her father, she will typically try to ﬁll the role of that father ﬁgure, usually through her romantic relationships. Plath replaces her father, not with a man, but with the Colossus. Jonas states that “never bonding with your father may [make you] feel as if there is a void in your life which you...