Daddy by Sylvia Plath

Topics: Sylvia Plath, Confessional poetry, Anne Sexton Pages: 7 (5002 words) Published: November 2, 2014

Adam Kirsch has written that some of Plath's works, like "Daddy", are self-mythologizing and suggests that readers should not interpret the poem as a strictly "confessional", autobiographical poem about her actual father. Sylvia Plath herself also did not describe the poem in autobiographical terms. When she introduced the poem for a BBC radio reading shortly before her suicide, she described the piece in the third person, stating that the poem was about "a girl with an Electra complex [whose] father died while she thought he was God. Her case is complicated by the fact that her father was also a Nazi and her mother very possibly part Jewish. In the daughter the two strains marry and paralyze each other – she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it". However, some critics have interpreted the poem in both biographical and psychoanalytic terms. For instance, the critic Robert Phillips wrote, "Finally the one way [Plath] was to achieve relief, to become an independent Self, was to kill her father's memory, which, in 'Daddy,' she does by a metaphorical murder. Making him a Nazi and herself a Jew, she dramatizes the war in her soul. . . From its opening image onward, that of the father as an "old shoe" in which the daughter has lived for thirty years—an explicitly phallic image, according to the writings of Freud—the sexual pull and tug is manifest, as is the degree of Plath's mental suffering, supported by references to Dachau, Auschwitz, and Belsen.” Other critics who take the same approach of psychoanalyzing Plath via the poem include the writers Guinevara A. Nance and Judith P. Jones. They make essentially the same argument as Phillips. They also write that "[Plath] accentuates linguistically the speaker's reliving 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 is reflected through language." ELEKTRA COMPLEX

The Electra complex is a psychoanalytic term used to describe a girl's sense of competition with her mother for the affections of her father. It is comparable to the Oedipus complex. According to Sigmund Freud, during female psychosexual development a young girl is initially attached to her mother. When she discovers that she does not have a penis, she becomes attached to her father and begins to resent her mother who she blames for her "castration." As a result, Freud believed that the girl then begin to identify with and emulate her mother out of fear of losing her love.While the term Electra complex is frequently associated with Freud, it was actually Carl Jung who coined the term in 1913. Freud actually rejected the term and described it as an attempt "to emphasize the analogy between the attitude of the two sexes." Freud himself used the term feminine Oedipus attitude to describe what we now refer to as the Electra complex. Symbol Analysis

The speaker indicates that her German father is like a Nazi, and that she is like a Jew. This is a very powerful metaphor for how the speaker feels like she is a victim of her father, or perhaps for how she feels about men in general. But she doesn't come right out and call him a Nazi. Instead, she uses metaphors, imagery, and subtle wordplay to show us that he's like a Nazi. Lines 29-35: Here, the speaker uses a train engine as a metaphor for the German language, which her father speaks. The train is taking the speaker to a concentration camp, like the Jews were during the Holocaust, which is a metaphor for how she feels that she is a victim of her father. Line 42: "Luftwaffe" means air force in German, and specifically refers to the German air force of World War II. By using German, the speaker is remaining subtle in her metaphorical incrimination of her father as Nazi. She says that he is connected to the German air force, not that...
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