ysLoss and Trauma in Plaths Daddy
In addition to the anger and violence, ‘Daddy’ is also pervaded by a strong sense of loss and trauma. The repeated ‘You do not do’ of the first sentence suggests a speaker that is still battling a truth she only recently has been forced to accept. After all, this is the same persona who in an earlier poem spends her hours attempting to reconstruct the broken pieces of her ‘colossus’ father. After 30 years of labor she admits to being ‘none the wiser’ and ‘married to shadow’, but she remains faithful to her calling. With ‘Daddy’ not only is the futility of her former efforts acknowledged, but the conditions that forced them upon her are manically denounced. At the same time, and this seems to fire her fury, she admits to her own willing self-deception. The father whom she previously related to the ‘Oresteia’ and the ‘Roman Forum’ is now revealed as a panzer man with a Meinkampf look. But she doesn’t simply stop at her own complicity. ‘Every woman,’ she announces ‘loves a Fascist/The boot in the face, the brute/Brute heart of a brute like you.’ There is obviously a lot of autobiography in the poem, but it deals with more than her bitter feelings towards her father and husband. The historic and allogorical references display a deep resentment towards male power in general; at least when this power is used for the purposes of oppression and destruction. Was Plath a proto-‘feminist’? All we know is that her lifetime extended over a period of particular brutality; most noticably the Holocsust, but also the real and threatened violence (nuclear warfare, the Rosenburgs),of the 1950’s cold war. Reference is often made to the renewed and heightened awareness to the Holocaust in the early 1960’s. But by that time, Plath was in her late 20’s. She was a much more impressionable twelve-year-old when the first images of Holocaust victims, in mass graves and standing lifeless behind barbed wire, were beamed across newreels and magazines; images which in all probability she saw, as shown in the poem The Thin People. Plath’s confused identification with Jews most likely dated from that time.
In fact, the triumphant tone at the end of the poem is undercut by the unsettled question of identity. The use of nursery-rhyme speech seems to reflect the persona’s uncertainty of an adult identification. At the end of the poem, it’s the villagers dancing and stamping, without mention of the speaker. This regression to child-speak is very telling. It is symbolically the language used when her father was still alive. After writing ‘Daddy’, Plath spoke of these childhood years as ‘beautiful, inacessible, obsolete, a fine, white flying myth’, but also sealed off like ‘a ship in a bottle.’ In her mind, the identity of these years ended with the actual death of her father; and this loss is relived once again in the symbolic death that occurs in the poem: ‘Daddy, I have had to kill you./You died before I had time—.’ Whatever revenge she achieved, it was paid for at a high price.