Daddy by Sylvia Plath: Theme

The poem Daddy by Sylvia Plath is typically a protest poem whose themes are multiple. On its surface, it is the outpour of a daughter's anger against her dominating father, but the poem's deeper meanings should be more generalized and symbolically interpreted as themes of

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

‘feminist’ protest against male domination, ‘political protest’ against the Germans and Hitler, ‘humanist protest’ against the inhumanity of war and politics, and the theme of ‘psychological outlet’ for relieving a torrent of neurotic energy caused by personal as well as social reasons in the speaker’s mind. Besides exploring these themes, it is also possible to interpret the poem as an autobiographical poem of Sylvia Plath’s personal life and experiences.

In a simple and superficial level, the theme of the poem is the outrageous expression of anger by a daughter against her father. This ‘concrete’ level of the poem’s meaning should not be underestimated because all the other deeper meanings depend on our understanding of the basic situation and expression. The speaker’s father has died, but he has always haunted with the dominating effect, and so she has had to struggle against it and even imagine killing his ghost. She is so angry with him that she identifies him with the Germans, the demoniac Hitler, the Nazi soldier, wars, engines used to crush men on the road, statues, and many other images. All those images suggest force, brutality, inhumanity, heartlessness and so on. Daddy becomes a private symbol of the dominating male and male traditions, war and politics, and a mind- disturbing demoniac image of inhumanity and violence.

One strong dimension of the poem’s deeper theme is the feminist protest. The father of the speaker gradually loses his individual qualities and becomes just a macho who is extremely cruel and dominating, harsh and hard like the lifeless statue, comparable to animalistic images, and tyrannical like the Nazi and their devilish Hitler. The father or male figure here takes on the general symbolic meaning as ‘power’, ‘cruelty’ and ‘oppression’, and therefore it need not be taken as ‘male’ alone. In fact, the extremity of anger against males in general is so unreasonable and unjustifiable that the poem’s meanings are only psychologically accountable.

As Plath herself emphasized, the male need not be male alone, but any kind of oppressive force against ‘humanity’. In that sense, the poem’s theme includes the concern for humanity. It is a humanistic protest against the system and agents of cruelty and inhumanity. That means, the image of the father develops thematically into a symbol of inhuman forces.

And finally, all the discussions of ‘theme’ in the poem should be considered in terms of psychological causes. Whether it is about feminist protest, humanist protest, or a partly autobiographical protest of a poetess, it is the outpour of a neurotic kind of emotion. The anger of the speaker is not limited to rational or reasonable manner of protest. We cannot ‘excuse’ a poet for being so indecent as to make the speaker call her father a ‘bastard’, if we do not consider that the anger is the cause of a psychosocial strain on the speaker, as it was also on the poetess herself.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "Daddy by Sylvia Plath: Theme" BachelorandMaster, 28 Apr. 2014,