Sylvia Plath’s father, Otto Plath, was an important part of her life and shaped her into the woman she was. Otto Plath died when Sylvia was only eight years old, yet the short time Sylvia spent with her father influenced the rest of her life. The poem, “Daddy” is very helpful in understanding Sylvia Plath’s relationship with her father and shows how Plath hated and feared him. In “Daddy,” she says she thinks every German is her father. Otto Plath was a German himself and was also accused of being Pro-German before and during WWII. Therefore, it makes sense that Plath would associate all Germans with her father, especially because in her mind they were all monsters. Sylvia Plath says she feels like a “Jew” (32) and that she thinks she “may well be a Jew” (35). Plath viewed her father as a Nazi which is apparent through her use of the word “swastika” (46) to take the place of God in her father’s life. Her father’s supposed identity as a Nazi and her supposed identity as a “Jew” show that Plath’s father terrorized her like the Jews were terrorized by the Nazis. Plath wishes she could have killed her father, which exhibits her disdain for her father. Also, when she says, “I have always been scared of you” (41), it illustrates Plath’s fear of her father. Plath reads her poem, “Daddy” aloud in an aggressive and angry tone which further conveys her feelings of anger and hatred towards her father. She calls her father a “brute” (49) to depict him as a monster. Moreover, Sylvia Plath describes her father as “a devil . . . who / Bit my pretty red heart in two” (54-56). When Plath says this, it reveals how her father broke her “pretty red heart” and ruined her life. She also compares her father to Hitler and says she made a model of him in the form of “A man in black with a Meinkampf look” (65). Mein Kampf is the autobiographical book that Hitler wrote describing his development of antisemitism, his political ideology, and his plans for the future of Germany. Plath uses this book title to describe her father as antisemitic towards her, a “Jew.” This metaphorical connection serves to portray Plath’s father as an evil man who is sub-human, like Hitler. Plath felt as though her father acted with hostility towards her in the same way that Hitler acted with Hostility towards Jews. Continuing with this same idea, she says her father was a vampire who “drank [her] blood for . . . / Seven years” (73-74). Plath also says “the villagers never liked you” (77) which further shows how her father was a disagreeable and unfriendly man. Plath’s father was a bad example of what a parent should be and thus had a negative effect on his daughter’s life. The death of Plath’s father likely played a part in her severe depression that eventually led her to commit suicide. In this way, and in many other ways, Sylvia Plath’s father had a tremendous impact on this young poet’s life through his role as a bad father.
View the video of Sylvia Plath reading aloud her poem “Daddy” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hHjctqSBwM
Read Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy” here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48999/daddy-56d22aafa45b2
For more information about Plath’s father, visit this site: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/aug/17/sylvia-plath-otto-father-files