An Analysis of Sylvia Plath's Poem, Daddy

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An Analysis of Sylvia Plath's Poem, Daddy

Sylvia Plath's famous poem "Daddy" seems to refer quite consistently to her deceased father (and obliquely to her then estranged husband Ted Hughes) by use of many references that can clearly be associated with the background of Otto Plath, emphasizing his German heritage. These include the "Polish town" where Otto was born, the atrocities of the German Nazis in the Second World War ("Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen"), the "Luftwaffe," and even the professorial pose of Dr. Plath "at the blackboard . . . / In the picture I have of you."

Yet in the midst of these references to Otto Plath's specifically German origins, lines at the beginning of stanza eight mention distinctly Austrian details: "The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna / Are not very pure or true" (lines 36-37). The two nations, Germany and Austria, share a common language, but they are--and have been--two very distinct countries. Otto Plath seems to have had no personal connection with Austria in his life, and the relevance of these lines to Plath's father seems obscure, especially as they are not further elaborated upon in the poem.

Two explanations for the presence of these intrusive lines, I believe, can be offered. First, in keeping with the repeated Nazi references in the poem, they might be Plath's very oblique reminder that even though the Nazis are universally associated with the Germans, AdoIf Hitler himself was born and raised in Austria, and during the Second World War many Austrians participated in the Nazi military effort (as the recent controversy over former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim made dear). However, as applied to Hitler, these references are both vague and inaccurate (Hitler was bo...

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...ide perhaps harboring negative and destructive feelings. Whether or not this was true, it could have provided Plath with a basis for her comments on the Austrian images.

The depth and ubiquity of Plath's hostility to her mother suggest that it could surface elsewhere than in poems overtly concerned with it, such as the ones mentioned above. If indeed it is present in "Daddy," as I suggest, the intrusive Austrian references serve not only to make more comprehensive the poet's wrath but also remind us that although Plath's grief at the death of her father provides the emotional force of much of her work, her constant, suppressed rage at her all-too-alive mother plays a major role in it as well.


Plath, Sylvia. "Daddy." Collected Poems. London: Faber, 1981. 222-24.

Wagner-Martin, Linda. Sylvia Plath: A Biography. New York: St. Martin, 1988.

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