DADDY References from Sylvia Plath’s poem
Holocaust imagery – why? • Plath was a child during WWII and saw the rise and fall of the Nazi party • When her father died (1942), hatred for all things German was at a peak in the USA • Her high school history teacher put photos of concentration camp inmates on the walls to disturb his students’ complacency • As an adult she followed the trials of Nazi war criminals like Adolf Eichmann • This interest is reflected in several other poems and stories, e.g. her short story ‘Superman and Paula Brown’s new Snow Suit’ is about a young girl’s loss of innocence during WWII, her poems ‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Mary’s Song’ and ‘Fever 103’
An excerpt from ‘Superman and Paula Brown’s new snow suit’ “That same winter, war was declared and I remember sitting by the radio with mother and Uncle Frank…their voices were low and serious and their talk was of planes and German bombs. Uncle Frank said something about Germans in America being put in prison for the duration and Mother kept saying over and over, ‘I’m only glad Otto didn’t live to see it come to this.”
“Ghastly Statue with one grey toe Big as a Frisco seal” • The Colossus of Rhodes was a 30 m high statue of a Greek god Helios. • In 1960 Plath published the poem ‘The Colossus’ which imagines her father’s dead body is the pieces of the Colossus lying on the hill side; his power over her broken.
“A head in the freakish AtlanticWhere it pours bean green over blue In the waters off the beautiful Nauset” • Nauset is the coast in Massachusetts where Plath grew up • Its sea is the Atlantic ocean “One grey toe Big as a Frisco Seal” A San Francisco Seal
“In the German tongue, in the Polish town scraped flat by the rollers of wars, wars, wars.” • Her father Otto Plath emigrated to USA from Grabow, Germany • He spoke & taught German • Grabow was in the Polish Corridor Photos: Grabow today; American soldiers in Grabow in 1945 after war’s end
Trains taking Jews from Warsaw to the camps The gates of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. “Chuffing me off like a JewA Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen”
“You stand at the black board DaddyIn the picture I have of you” This photo comes from Sylvia Plath’s mother Aurelia. She said of her husband in her book Letters Home: • “Otto’s superior education…our former teacher student relationship…led to an attitude of “rightful” dominance on his part…I realised that if I wanted a peaceful home, I would simply have to become more submissive” • “Otto did not take an active role in tending to or playing with the children, he loved them dearly and took great pride in their attractiveness and progress”
“The snows of the TyrolThe clear beer of Vienna are not very pure or true” • The Tirol is an alpine mountain area in Austria • Plath’s mother was of Austrian descent and had grown up speaking German
“my gypsy ancestress…and my Taroc pack” • Plath and Hughes were fascinated by the occult • In the evenings they would often play with a a Ouja board and Tarot cards Tarot card reading has been popular in Europe since 1500, including Romania In WWII Gypsies (Roma people) were also persecuted by the Nazis and sent to camps
“I have always been scared of youWith your Luftwaffe…” • The Luftwaffe is the German Air Force, which was the most powerful in Europe in WWII
“And your neat moustache, your Aryan eye bright blue. Panzer man, Panzer man, O You’ • A Panzer was an armoured tank • The Panzer divisions were crucial in helping Germany successfully invade other countries in WWII
“I made a model of you…”Plath said about this poem… '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 paralyse each other--she has to act out the awful little allegory before she is free of it.' • The Electra complex ( theory from Freudian psychology) that said women seek men who are like their fathers and resent their mothers.
“The black telephone’s off at the root” • Plath pulled the phone cord out of the wall when she intercepted a call from Assia Wevill to Ted Hughes • This incident is also mentioned in such poems as Plath’s ‘Words heard, by accident, over the phone’ , ‘The Fearful’ and Hughes's ‘Do Not Pick Up the Telephone.’ As well as alluding to this incident, what else does this metaphor convey?
An interesting Plath-like image… The Epiphany
So – what do you think?What is ‘Daddy’ about? Which of these statements would you agree with? Give reasons. Or – write your own! • ‘Daddy’ is about how her father was as evil as Hitler. • ‘Daddy’ is about Plath’s hatred of her husband Ted Hughes. • The poem is saying that Sylvia Plath’s suffering at the hands of men is as bad as the Jews’ suffering during the Holocaust. • The poem is about the suffering all women experience at the hands of men. • The poem is about a daughter who both loves and hates her father. • The poem is about a woman who suffered for her love of a dominant father and husband and is trying to break free.
Is Daddy a good poem? • IF YES … what makes it good? • IF NO… what’s wrong with it?
Critics said… • “Daddy is the ‘Guernica’ of Modern poetry” • - George Steiner, critic • “Despite everything, Daddy is a love poem” - A. Alvarez