When Sylvia Plath, at age eight, was told that her father had died, she said, "I'll never speak to God again" (source).
When Plath was four years old, her father Otto, a professor of German and biology at Boston University, became ill with what he would later find out was diabetes. By the time he sought medical care four years later, it was too late. One of his legs had to be amputated and he eventually died of complications from his long hospitalization.
His death threw the family into economic and emotional turmoil. Throughout the rest of her life, which she ended herself in 1963, Plath struggled with depression. Though she was a prolific poet, she published only one book of poetry, The Colossus, and one novel, The Bell Jar, while she was alive.
"Daddy" was written shortly before Plath's suicide in 1963, along with many of the other poems that ended up in her book Ariel, which was published after her death. Plath wrote these poems after her husband, poet Ted Hughes, left her for another woman. This already difficult change for Plath became more difficult as she was left to care for their two young children during a particularly harsh London winter. "Daddy" is disturbing on its own, but it becomes simply haunting the moment we picture Plath writing early in the morning before her children were awake, growing closer and closer to self-destruction.
Why Should I Care?
Like all human beings, you have a father. You may love him, you may hate him, or maybe you've never even met him, but he is a part of you.
So, by nature, you're connected to the people who, for centuries, across continents, and spanning all genres of literature and entertainment, have written and made art about their relationships with their fathers. Shakespeare's plays often deal with father-child relationships. The pop culture epic Star Wars culminates with the discovery of an absent father. Even the Bible tells the story of an entire people whose "father" is far away.
Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" is part of this tradition, but it's not just about Plath's relationship with her father. It's also about topics such as death, love, fascism, brutality, war, marriage, femininity, and God – to name a few.
"Daddy" is a disturbing – but artful – howl from a woman who has lost her father and her husband. Be warned, Plath's language is as playful as it is scathing.