Imagery in Poems “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath

Topics: Sylvia Plath, Nazi concentration camps, Ted Hughes Pages: 5 (1486 words) Published: November 11, 2008
In poems of Sylvia Plath, entitled “Lady Lazarus” and “Daddy” some elements are similar, including used hostile imagery, gloomy atmosphere as well as recurring theme of suicide, but the poems differ in respect of the speaker’s point of view and attitude towards addressed person or unfavorable surroundings. These elements are employed by Plath in order to intensify the impact on her audience and convey all extreme emotions. Another issue that is considered to be worthy of thinking over is the question why the poet refers to Holocaust and the suffering of the Jews in Nazi concentration camps.

First of all, it should be decided who is the speaker in poem “Daddy”. This issue as well as the controversial use of Holocaust imagery by Sylvia Plath may be resolved with quoting here her own words, which explain who the speaker is : The poem is spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. Her 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 before she is free of it. The daughter “Barely daring to breathe or Achoo” (5) addresses the memory of the father with increasing rage which contribute to impression that the poem is out of control. The poem begins with a series of images about father/ oppressor which progress from godlike: “Marble-heavy, a big full of God, / Ghastly statue with one gray toe / Big as Frisco seal” (8-10) to demonic. Although expressions, such as “swastika” (46), “brute” (49), “the rack” (66) indicate victimization, the poem is also about longing and love. In place of what is really frightening, that is abandonment and lack of concern, viciousness and persecution is substituted. The speaker admits she was only ten when she had to deal with death of her father. The black shoe appears to be a metaphor to how her life was trapped in sorrow like a foot is trapped in a shoe. It almost seems as though she wants to hate him, more than she actually did. By and large, “Daddy” is about mourning and consequences of smothering grief.

Furthermore, if Plath’s above explanation had been discarded she must attack not only the father but also other man. Ambiguity in her anger may be unraveled if biographical details are taken into consideration. From this point of view, the reader finds out that her father Otto Emil Plath died suddenly when Sylvia was eight and “some of Plath's poems hint at darker forces in the marriage; her Newnham tutor later commented on ‘the passionate rage which has since come to be recognised as the dominating emotion of her poetry’ (Wagner, 84)” . Basing on those facts, it may be concluded that first half (11 stanzas) of the poem seems to be directed at her father; the last half (5 stanzas) attacks her husband Ted Hughes who was often unfaithful to her and some biographers blame him for Plath’s suicide. The speaker’s assertion: “And I said I do, I do.” (67) must relate to marriage promise. The fact that her idealized marriage has become torture is shown in fierce comments towards him: "devil," (54) "vampire," (72) “A man in black with a Meinkampf look" (65).

Even though there is a mention of torturer in “Lady Lazarus”: “Herr Doctor… Herr Enemy” (65-66) , his role is marginal, because attention of the reader is focused on the lyric persona. Still, it may be said that, the association with Jewish persecution in “Daddy” can be better understood by concomitant study of this poem. Both poems are equally controversial. The main reason of this are references to Holocaust used by the poet. The comparison of her own personal experiences to suffering of Jews during the Second World War seems to be a trivial trick, a purpose of which is to draw attention of a potential reader and shock him. Needless to say, she could never imagine their humiliation. It may be said that both poems are filled...

Bibliography: Aird, Eileen. 1973. Sylvia Plath: her Life and Work. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd. [, accessed 6 May 2007.]
Brown, Sally. Plath , Sylvia. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 6 May 2007]
Dickie, Margaret. 1979 Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Urbana: the University of Illinois Press. [, accessed 6 May 2007]
Kirszner, Laurie and Mandell Stephen. 2004. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. London, New York: Thomson & Heine.
Oberg, Arthur. 1978. Modem American Lyric: Lowell, Berryman, Creeley,-and Plath. Rutgers University Press. [, accessed 6 May 2007]
Orr, Peter, ed. 1966. The Poet Speaks. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. [, accessed 6 May 200]
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