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Analysis of “daddy” by Sylvia Plath, “howl” by Allen Ginsberg and “questions of Travel” by Elizabeth Bishop

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Analysis of “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath, “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg and “Questions of Travel” by Elizabeth Bishop

Sylvia Plath’s confessions are at the same time dreadfully private and presented as a performance. In her writing she attempts to shock  her audience by raising disconcerting subjects and using gruesome imagery. In “Daddy” performance style is clearly visible in both form and language. The poem has a beat that results from short lines and repetition of sounds. The effect is that it reads like a nursery rhyme, which juxtaposed with the theme of a poem has a particularly strong effect on the reader.

In the elegy „Daddy” Sylvia Plath writes about her prematurely deceased father – Otto Plath, and her relationship with him. She leans back on Holocaust themes and imagery to a great extent in order to provide a shocking frame for her confession. The poem has a form of an apostrophe, in which Plath addresses her father and makes an attempt to resolve her toxic relationship with him. The poem deals with a set of oppositions such as inferiority/superiority; Jews/Nazis; love/hate; suicide/murder; pleasure/violence.  “Daddy” is a form of exorcism through which the poet tries to finally do away with the father figure and come to terms with his death.

Already from the first stanza the reader can infer the feeling of inferiority that she has towards her father: “black shoe/ In which I have lived like a foot (..)/ Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.”. Otto Plath died when she was a young girl and for her whole adult life continued to be a dominating figure “a bag full of God”, through prism of which she established her relationship with herself and with other men “I made a model of you,/A man in black with a Meinkampf look”. As a child she was unable to form a satisfactory relationship with the father, which had a bearing on her life and poetry. He is the figure who is brooding over her whole existence. Therefore, in “Daddy” we can sense a strong Electra complex as well as desire to annihilate the father figure and  herself. The love that she felt for her father, although not obvious in the poem, can be seen in the wish to “get back, back, back to you” by committing suicide. Moreover, incestuous tendencies are visible in the lines: “Every woman adores a Fascist,/ The boot in the face, the brute/ Brute heart of a brute like you./.” Apart from sadomasochistic tendencies of Plath the lines present her father as an object of desire. The daughter is in a tragic predicament in this poem; she is unable to have father’s love and affection, as he is dead, but she is also unable to wipe him out from her life: “Daddy, I have had to kill you,/You died before I had time.” Therefore, she feels resentment and anger towards her father, which is reflected by embodying him as a Nazi and herself as a Jew. Possible reason for this imagery is the fact that Otto Plath was of a German descent; he was born in Polish town Grabów. In the poem she mentions looking for his roots in Poland, which she is unable to find them and which results in frustration and inability to establish a place of origin and a sense of belonging. The oppression is present throughout the poem primarily in the form of a language and the inability to communicate successfully. Plath was unable to converse with her father even when he was alive, and now after his death she is similarly unable to express this loss verbally: “And the language obscene/ An engine, an engine/ Chuffing me off like a Jew.” Thus, she is not able to come to terms with his death, as one of the conditions needed to deal with trauma is an ability to speak about it. “The obscene language” that Plath refers to is German, which she uses throughout the poem to create an effect of alienation. German seems to be a force that is strangling Plath, which is illustrated in the repeated rhythm of :”Ich, ich, ich, ich/ I could hardly speak” and can be perceived as an inability to catch breath. The fact that she represents herself as a Jew creates a gaping chasm between Plath and her father. He is the oppressor and she a constricted victim, who later on seeks revenge by the means of a metaphorical murder. Freud’s theory is once more present in the poem when she reenacts her relationship with the father in her marriage. Towards the end of the poem the imagery changes and her oppressors are no longer Nazis but vampires who drink her blood – her father and husband respectively.  

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