Breaking Up With Daddy: Sylvia Plath On Human Relations

1208 words - 5 pages

As is inherent within the tradition of confessional poetry, a subgenre of lyric poetry which was most prominent from the fifties to the seventies (Moore), Sylvia Plath uses the events of her own tragic life as the basis of creating a persona in order to examine unusual relationships. An excellent example of this technique is Plath’s poem “Daddy” from 1962, in which she skilfully manipulates both diction, trope and, of course, rhetoric to create a character which, although separate from Plath herself, draws on aspects of her life to illustrate and make points about destructive, interhuman relations. Firstly that of a father and daughter, but later also that of a wife and her unfaithful husband.
Like her fellow confessionals such as Anne Sexton and W.D. Snodgrass (Moore), Plath uses plain, uncomplicated diction; meaning that she creates a linguistic world for her poem that every (young) adult reader should be able to access without too much trouble. She does expect some level of basic historical knowledge from her reader through her repeated references to World War II, in lines like these:
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. (33-34)

As well as these:
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look (64-65)

It is important to understand, however, that Plath’s poem is not simply about the perils of the war, and the hate-filled relations between Jews and Nazis, but rather about the troubled thoughts of a character who lost her father at a young age, and after having struggled with a desire to be reunited for many years, has now finally had enough of her own obsession and is “breaking up” with him in the final line:
Daddy, Daddy, you bastard, I’m through. (80)
Although Plath’s language is by no means ornate or fanciful, it is deliberately and carefully chosen to evoke specific emotions and images. Not only is the entire piece driven by a soothing rhythm, created by words which frequently include lullaby-esque “ooh” sounds, especially apparent in lines like the following:
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. (56-59)

it is also laden with strong concrete images— particularly focusing on the idea of Jew vs. Nazi, victim vs. wrongdoer. These two choices may seem odd to the reader at first glance, but once examined more closely, it becomes clear that Plath has deliberately chosen this kind of trope and rhythm to further emphasize the idea of a nurturing relationship gone wrong.
Following in the footsteps of W.D. Snodgrass, the founder of confessional poetry, and his way of combining private and public matter to explore societal issues which has become one of the defining features of this subgenre (Moore), Plath mentions a tragic event from her own life— the death of her father, Otto Plath, when she was no more than eight years old. This connection between imagination and real life becomes especially clear in lines such...

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