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Vampire - An Analysis of Sylvia Plath's Poem "Daddy"

Updated on June 21, 2017
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Lisa is a substitute teacher who studies English Literature. She lives to write and is following her dream of becoming a professor.

According to Carla Jago et al., when speaking about her Poem Daddy, Sylvia Plath said "The poem is spoken by a girl with an Electra complex…. (this was) complicated by the fact that her father was a Nazi and her mother very possibly part-Jewish. In the daughter, the two strains marry and paralyze each other..."(313). With this quote in mind, and after reading The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, it becomes very clear that this poem is about more than just the loss of her father, and betrayal of her husband. This poem is about the two sides of Sylvia Plath paralyzing each other, and her taking the only way out that she knew how. In her mind, suicide was the only way she could get out from underneath the loss of her father and husband, and the unfair expectations of her mother.

To understand how the Electra Complex relates to this poem, one must first understand the Electra Complex. Interestingly, Nancy Cater did a study, about the Jungian perspective of the myth about Electra and how it applies to modern youth. She writes a whole chapter on how this myth applied to Sylvia Plath. She explains the myth as being about a girl overcome by the death of her father whom she puts on a pedestal. Unable to ever get over him, the girl begins to hate her mother, because, the death of her father, was her mother's fault (1-3).

What is fascinating is, although her mother did not have anything to do with her father's death, Sylvia Plath did blame her for it. She wrote about her anger at her mother many times in her journal. In one such example, she expressed her blame "Me, I never knew the love of a father, the love of a steady blood-related man after the age of eight. My mother killed the only man who'd love me steady through life: came in one morning with tears of nobility in her eyes and told me he was gone for good. I hated her for that"(431).

According to Heather Cam, Sylvia Plath was inspired to write Daddy shortly after reading a poem written by one of her colleagues, Anne Sexton, titled My Friend, my Friend. In 1959, writers had not yet started exploring deeply personal or emotional issues in their work. Sylvia Plath was excited by this development, describing the way Sexton writes as, "perhaps quite new, quite exciting" (3). What is interesting is that it appears that Plath modeled the rhyme scheme, for daddy, off Sexton’s poem. As Cam points out "both poems are in first person...and it appears that "Daddy" borrows and slightly alters rhythms, rhymes, words, and lines from the Sexton's poem" (5).

Seeing that, it is easy also to notice that Sexton mentions her mother in her poem. She is not addressing her mother, she is speaking about her mother's death. Maybe Plath saw Sexton's mother as an important aspect of the poem. Maybe the death of Sexton's mother reminded her of her father's death, and about the feelings that she kept hidden about her mother. Would it be such a stretch to say that Plath was inspired by this aspect of the poem, as well? Her mother still lived, her father was gone. Could Plath have addressed the poem to her father, and hid references (about her mother) in symbols in metaphors, to spare her mother's feelings? Is it possible that these embedded secrets about her mother, amongst an angry tirade about her father, could be one giant metaphor for the war going on inside of her?

All the factors mentioned above considered a new life begins to emerge, from within the words of this poem. Ironically, many people believe that the black shoe and foot analogy, in the first stanza, is about her oppressive father and husband. However, the foot could be a symbol for, herself, stuck in the confining shoe. This shoe could be foreshadowing her feelings of confinement in a world; she did not believe she belonged in, her mother's perfect world.

On the other hand, the second and third stanza have to do with her father, much as the standard view states. In the second stanza, the allegory "Marble-heavy, bag of God" symbolizes her heavy burden of Hero Worship, and the need she felt to end it. Also, the personification of the statue "with one grey toe big as a Frisco Seal" (310), symbolizes - her father's death and the big hole it put in her life. In the same way, during the third stanza, the writer uses imagery and allegory to help set the tone. There is a stark contrast to the ghastly statue being compared to the beautiful water, and the water being freakishly expansive, is an allegory for her search for her father in every man she met.

Incidentally, the fourth verse says a lot, for such few words. First, it is an allusion to the next four stanzas. Since the German tongue represents her father, and the Polish town represents her mother. She uses an example of syntax called Epizeuxis to bring emphasis to the word war. She says it three times, first to describe the war within herself about never being good enough for her mother. Next, to elude to the war, she felt battling the loss of her father and husband. Finally, to foreshadow the defeat she felt, in her personal war with depression, which was about to show up in the poem.

Also, the fifth and sixth verse Plath could be speaking to both parents first to her father, then to her mother. When she starts with "I never could talk to you" and ends with," Ich Ich Ich Ich (I, I, I, I,), I could hardly speak" (311), she could be referring to the difficulty she has relating to her mother. When she uses the German language to put the focus on the word I, she could be eluding to the fact that she felt her mother only thought of herself.

Moreover, in verse twelve Plath Says, "I made a model of you, a man in black with a Meinkampf look "(312). Most people think that she is speaking to her father. It is easy to believe that she is telling him that she found a man just like him; which is probably true. However, this line could have a double meaning. She could also be telling her mother that she was trying to be the person she wanted her to be. She wanted to make herself into a "model" of her mother; going so far as to marry a man that ended up breaking her heart, in the same way, her father did, when he died.

According to Frederick Feirstein "Plath mythically turned herself into a Jew in the hands of Nazis, symbolized in "Daddy" by her beloved father, whom she lost at eleven. Most bizarrely and dramatically, her suicide would take place in a gas oven (105). This gives a whole new meaning to the first and second line in the eighth stanza, "An engine, an engine Chuffing me off like a Jew"(311). Who was the engine symbolizing, in this powerful line? Who was pushing Plath closer to death? Strangely enough, in her journal she writes, "read Freud's Mourning and Melancholia this morning. An almost exact description of my feelings and reason for suicide: A transferred murderous rage, from mother onto myself: the "vampire" metaphor uses, "draining the ego": that is exactly the feeling I have getting in the way of my writing: Mother's clutch"(447).

With that in mind, the vampire metaphor in stanza 17, really seems to stand out. Plath refers to her mother as the vampire, in her journal. Most people believe she is speaking about her husband when she is speaking of "killing the vampire who said he was you." However, could it be possible that this is denotative language referring to both her husband and her mother? Her mother did have to take on both the mom and dad role when raising her. She did have murderous feelings towards her mother. She did refer to her mother as a vampire.

In her journal, Julia Plath compares societies ideas of a good life and security as "old anchors." Also, she refers to herself as her mother's "cross to bear." Next, she speaks about guilt for not being a more ordinary daughter. Finally, she refers to her choice of following her own heart even with societies "cold eye" gazing upon her (432-434). These things point to the fact that Sylvia Plath did indeed feel different than everyone else, judged by everyone around her. She felt as if she were a Jew, in a Hitler world, Chug -chugging to her own personal gas chamber.

In conclusion, it could be said that many of the lines in her poem do, in fact, convey a double meaning. With this knowledge, it is hard to ignore the fact that the poem Daddy, has more to do with Plath's need to escape her mother's clutches, the pain she felt toward the men in her life, and her need to be her own person. For this reason, the poem would appear to have less to do with an angry tirade about her father and husband. It is true that the poem has some layers expressing her anger towards her spouse, and father. However, there is also an often overlooked, yet vital layer, which has to do with the resentment that she felt toward her mother, and an even more vital layer, that foreshadows the writer's death.

Sylvia Plath reads Daddy

Daddy Written by Sylvia Plath



You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You——

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.


My Friend, My Friend by Anne Sexton

Who will forgive me for the things I do?
With no special legend of God to refer to,
With my calm white pedigree, my yankee kin,
I think it would be better to be a Jew.

I forgive you for what you did not do.
I am impossibly quilty. Unlike you,
My Friend, I can not blame my origin
With no special legend or God to refer to.

They wear The Crucifix as they are meant to do.
Why do their little crosses trouble you?
The effigies that I have made are genuine,
(I think it would be better to be a Jew).

Watching my mother slowly die I knew
My first release. I wish some ancient bugaboo
Followed me. But my sin is always my sin.
With no special legend or God to refer to.

Who will forgive me for the things I do?
To have your reasonable hurt to belong to
Might ease my trouble like liquor or aspirin.
I think it would be better to be a Jew.

And if I lie, I lie because I love you,
Because I am bothered by the things I do,
Because your hurt invades my calm white skin:
With no special legend or God to refer to,
I think it would be better to be a Jew.

Works Cited


Cam, Heather. "'Daddy': Sylvia Plath's Debt to Anne Sexton." American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography, vol. 59, no. 3, 1987, pp. 429.

Cater, N. C. (2001). Re-envisioning electra: Jungian perspectives (Order No. 3054546). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304783831). Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/304783831?accountid=35812

Feirstein, F. (2016). A psychoanalytic study of sylvia plath. Psychoanalytic Review, 103(1), 103-126. doi:http://dx.doi.org/101521prev20161031103

Jago, C., Shea, R. H., Scanlon, L., & Aufses, R. D. (2011). Literature and Composition: Reading, writing, thinking. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Plath, S. (2000). The Unabridged Journal of Sylvia Plath. : First Anchor Books.

© 2017 Lisa Williams

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