Plath’s real-life marriage to the poet Ted Hughes involved, as even a cursory glance of the biographic record indicates, a replication of the “Tyrant” theme associated with her father in her journals and in the poem “Daddy. ” The sordid details of Plath’s marriage to Hughes involved sexual domination and submission, physical fighting, infidelity, poetic rivalry, and a exploration of occultism, including Cabalistic work and magickal operations.
This latter consideration of magickal and cabalistic practices enjoins the poem “Daddy” in a veiled autobiographical reference “With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck/And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack/ I may be a bit of a Jew. ” These lines may seem obscure — or purely within the invented scope of the poem; however, inspection of Plath’s biography reveals that these lines invoke her sense of oppression through mysticism likely brought upon by her magickal associations with Hughes.
In addition to Cabala , astrology, and Tarot, Hughes practiced hypnosis on Plath seeking to guide her to self-affirmation and poetic inspiration. (Malcom). In “Daddy,” Plath identifies herself, mystically, as a persecuted Jew indicating that she regarded Hughes’ attempts to guide her as artificial and constraining of her own gifts, which, in turn, brought upon her own subjection to oppression. Instead of illumination, blackness, exudes from father and husband.
Here, an important distinction between autobiography and narrative is made; a distinction which propels the poem in a Confessional mode from the merely personal, and thus becoming, perhaps, turgid or melodramatic rather than spell-binding and dramatic. This distinction is that Plath identifies her speaker with the Jews of the Auschwitz, Dachua, and Belsen concentration camps, exalting her personal mode of suffering brought upon by her father’s death and her abusive marriage to a stature that would resonate not merely with those familiar with the details of her life but with those who had never known her at all.
That said, the poem gains its most sinister and perhaps most powerful energies from deeply autobiographical confession. That “Daddy” was written by Plath as an exercise in personal catharsis, as well as a lyric poem meant to excite large audiences, is obvious. The lines which seemingly abruptly refer to San Francisco: “Ghastly statue with one gray toe / Big as a Frisco Seal / And a head in the freakish Atlantic. ” identify the daddy in the poem “as a colossus who stretches across America from the Atlantic to the Pacific–a colossus even larger than the one described in “The Colossus.
” These seemingly obscure details are in fact references to Plath’s father: the “Ghastly statue with one gray toe” is Otto Plath’s gangrenous leg, and San Francisco Bay is where he conducted his research on muscid larvae. ” (Plath 194). The poem’s narrative arc foreshadows suicide in the poem’s opening lines, and repeats the affirmation of suicide in the lines “At twenty I tried to die/ And get back, back, back to you.? I thought even bones would do.
” Thus, suicide becomes the implicit form of revenge with the “stake” in Daddy’s “fat black heart” being the stake of death— and the poet’s death as an act of revenge and personal empowerment.
Annas, Pamela J. A Disturbance in Mirrors: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988. Plath, Sylvia. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. New York NY Anchor Books. 2000. Plath, Sylvia The Collected Poems New York NY: HarperPerennial 1992. Malcolm, Janet. The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.