Voices and Visions: The Poet in America

Helen McNeil: On "Daddy"

In "Daddy," perhaps Plath's most famous poem,. . . Otto Plath appears coded, first as the patriarchal statue, "Marble-heavy, a bag full of God / Ghastly statue with one gray toe." Then, shockingly, he becomes a Nazi, playing tormentor to Plath's Jew. Although Otto Plath came from Silesia, in what was then Germany, he was not a Nazi, nor was his daughter Jewish, nor is there evidence that he mistreated her. In a classic transference, "Daddy" transforms the abandoned child's unmediated irrational rage into qualities attributed to its object: if Daddy died and hurt me so, he must be a bastard; I hate him for his cruelty; everyone else hates him too: "the villagers never liked you.". . . Plath knew that she hadn't ever completed the process of mourning for her father, and both she and "Daddy" recognize that in some way she had used Hughes as a double of her lost father. . . ."Daddy" operates by generating a duplicate of Plath’s presumed psychic state in the reader, so that we reexperience her grief, rage, masochism, and revenge, whether or not these fit the ‘facts.'

From "Sylvia Plath," in Helen Vendler, ed. Voices and Visions: The Poet in America. (Random House, 1987).