Study Guide

Daddy Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

By Sylvia Plath

Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

Nazis and the Holocaust

The speaker indicates that her German father is like a Nazi, and that she is like a Jew. This is a very powerful metaphor for how the speaker feels like she is a victim of her father, or perhaps for how she feels about men in general. But she doesn't come right out and call him a Nazi. Instead, she uses metaphors, imagery, and subtle wordplay to show us that he's like a Nazi.

  • Lines 29-35: Here, the speaker uses a train engine as a metaphor for the German language, which her father speaks. The train is taking the speaker to a concentration camp, like the Jews were during the Holocaust, which is a metaphor for how she feels that she is a victim of her father.
  • Line 42: "Luftwaffe" means air force in German, and specifically refers to the German air force of World War II. By using German, the speaker is remaining subtle in her metaphorical incrimination of her father as Nazi. She says that he is connected to the German air force, not that he's a Nazi straight-out.
  • Lines 43-44: Here, the speaker uses imagery to build the metaphor that her father is a Nazi. The neat mustache is an allusion (a subtle reference) to Hitler's mustache. The bright blue Aryan eyes refer to the Nazi's ideal race of people.
  • Line 45: The German word for a tank is "panzer," and the men who manned German army tanks were called "Panzermen," so this reference goes along with "Luftwaffe." The use of German subtly connects the speaker's father with Nazi Germany.
  • Lines 46-47: Here the connection with Nazis becomes more blatant. The speaker's father changes from one metaphor – being like God – to another – being a swastika, the symbol of Nazism. Line 47 is an example of hyperbole, or extreme exaggeration – the swastika is not just black, but so black it blots out the sky.
  • Line 48: Fascists, including the Nazis, are known to be tyrannical and cruel. Doesn't sound like something anyone would love, much less something every women loves.
  • Line 65: Here, we've moved from connecting the speaker's father to the Nazis to connecting the model of him – the speaker's husband – to Hitler. Mein Kampf is a book written by Hitler, so saying that this man has a Meinkampf look is an allusion to Hitler.

Vampires

At the end of this poem, the metaphor for the speaker's father and husband, and potentially all men, shifts from Nazis to vampires. These men go from being depicted as living horrors to undead horrors. We know that the speaker's father is dead, so it's super creepy to think that he's come back to haunt her as a vampire.

  • Lines 72-74: Here, the speaker blatantly calls her husband a vampire. At first, we think this is just a simple metaphor – if you're really angry at someone, using the word "vampire" would be mean, but not terribly creepy. But then the metaphor is extended. The vampire has sucked the narrator's blood for seven years, probably the length of their marriage. This is a vivid metaphor for the pain that their relationship must have caused the speaker.
  • Lines 76-79: Here, the vampire metaphor is transferred from the model of the father to the father himself, who has died a vampire's death, with a stake through his heart. The metaphorical villagers, who probably stand for the speaker's friends or emotions, always knew that the father was a vampire, so they're dancing on his dead body.

Size

The speaker in this poem describes herself as small, and her father as immense. But for the most part she doesn't just come out and say so: she shows us with imagery and metaphors. This adds to the feel that the speaker is the victim in this poem, and makes her father seem more looming and scary.

  • Lines 1-5: These lines contain a metaphor comparing the speaker's father to a shoe in which she lives. She doesn't really live in a shoe, but uses this metaphor to show us how trapped she feels by the memories of her father. The speaker, then, is small enough to live inside a shoe, and her father, as a metaphorical shoe, is big enough for someone to live in.
  • Lines 9-11: These lines make the father seem huge. The speaker is using the metaphor of a statue to describe her father, but this is no ordinary statue – it stretches across the entire United States! But the speaker doesn't say this plainly – she has to use lots of other figurative language within this metaphor. Saying that her father's toe is as big as a San Francisco seal is an example of simile, because of the use of the word "as." Then, she uses imagery to show us that the statue's head is all the way over in the Atlantic.

Communication

If a fan of Cool Hand Luke, a classic movie starring Paul Newman, took a look at this poem, she'd probably quote the film and say, "What we have here is failure to communicate." As we have seen, the speaker has a hard time talking to her father, and eventually stops trying. Yet, this entire poem is addressed to the speaker's father; with 80 lines, it seems she desperately wants to say something to him. But, remember, her father is dead, so there's no way she could possibly get through to him. The knowledge that her father will never read this poem is probably what enables the speaker to write it. We won't analyze every time the speaker addresses her father because that would be the entire poem, but we'll take a look at specific instances where she expresses trouble communicating.

  • Lines 6, 51, 68, 75, 80: The use of the name "Daddy" in these lines is an example of apostrophe, or direct address to a person who is absent.
  • Line 14: Prayer, as shown in this line, is a way of communicating with God, which is what this speaker is trying to do to get her father back. But it doesn't work – she "used to" pray, but doesn't anymore.
  • Lines 24-28: Here, the speaker tells us straight-up that she could never talk to her father – we're guessing she means while he was alive. We get a couple cool metaphors here. The first is that the speaker's tongue gets stuck in her jaw, which is a metaphor for being unable to talk. But then we get a metaphor for the metaphor – the jaw turns into a barbed wire snare. In line 27, "Ich, ich, ich, ich," is not just repetition, but onomatopoeia, which means the words sound like what they are trying to get across, which is stammering. This line sounds like someone who was trying to speak German while her tongue was in a snare.
  • Lines 68-70: The communication has now been terminated. These lines picture communication in a pretty cool way, though. The metaphor here is comparing the telephone to a plant – the phone is cut off at the root, and voices are like worms. It's as if there's a metaphorical telephone plant growing on her father's grave, with roots instead of wires. But it's uprooted now.

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