The inescapable oppressiveness of the patriarchy
The internalisation of gender stereotypes and their destructive effects
The potential for self-realisation (and its limitations and consequences)
Poems by Hughes it can be paired with:
The Bee God
A Picture of Otto
Throughout Daddy, Plath reflects on her toxic relationship with her father, and how the weight of his memory led to her seeking a similarly abusive relationship with her husband, Ted Hughes.
The poem opens with Plath recalling how her father, Otto, intimidated her and made her feel as if she was a Jew being persecuted by the Nazis – she came to internalise her victimhood (‘I began to talk like a Jew. / I think I may well be a Jew.’), which in turn led her to view all men as oppressive (to be discussed later). Plath continues to rage against the power her father exerted over her, invoking more Nazi imagery (‘With your Luftwaffe,’ ‘Not God but a swastika’) as she conveys how that oppression destroyed her (‘Bit my pretty red heart in two.’) Though Plath makes it clear that her father was evil – she even suggests he was the devil incarnate – she continues to say that following his death, she sought a similar relationship with her husband, Hughes. Hughes filled the hole left by Otto’s passing, and continued torturing her (‘A man in black with a Meinkampf look / And a love of the rack and the screw.’) By marrying Hughes, Plath was able to finally move on from her father and find closure in the abuse perpetrated by another man – ‘Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.’
Throughout the poem, Plath reflects the victim mentality that she developed as a result of being violently forced into the confines of domesticity, which was designed by men to ensure the continuation of the patriarchy, and which she famously resented.