Key ideas in this poem are the inescapable oppressiveness of the patriarchy, the internalisation of gender stereotypes and their destructive effects and the potential for self-realisation as well as its limitations and consequences.
It can be paired with the Hughes poems The Shot, The Bee God or 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.
‘The boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you.’
Trauma from father
‘And your neat mustache / And your Aryan eye, bright blue.’
Trauma of father
‘I began to talk like a Jew. / I think I may well be a Jew.’
Trauma of father
‘Ich, ich, ich, ich, / I could hardly speak.’
Impact of father
‘It stuck in a barb wire snare’
Experience of relationship
‘I used to pray to recover you. / Ach, du.’
Extent of trauma
‘Daddy, I have had to kill you. / You died before I had time -’
Trauma Importance of her father
‘You do not do, you do not do / Any more, black shoe / In which I have lived like a foot’
Repetition, Allusion, Simile
Trauma of her father, Impact of that trauma