Study Guide

Daddy Themes

  • Gender

    "Daddy" is not only an exploration of the speaker's relationship with her father and husband, but of women's relationships with men in general. It was written in the 1960s, a time when feminists fought for women's rights and made big progress in the way that gender was viewed in society. Though this poem does not address feminism blatantly, it is a powerful statement from a female against males. It's not limited to addressing one male, but any male who has suppressed, betrayed, or, perhaps worst of all, died and left behind their daughters and wives.

    Questions About Gender

    1. How would this poem be different if it was written to a father from a son instead of a daughter? What about written from a daughter to a mother?
    2. How does the speaker make this poem about men in general instead of just her father?
    3. Do you think the speaker is so vicious towards her father because he was a bad person, or because she is sad that he died?
    4. How do you think the feminist movement affects this poem?

    Chew on This

    The imagery in this poem is conflicted, showing that the speaker's emotions towards her father are hateful, but also mournful.

    This poem applies to all men, and not just the speaker's father, because of the metaphors and imagery that connect both the father and the husband to violence and war.

  • Mortality

    The speaker of "Daddy" is obsessed with mortality – her father's mortality, and her own. When the speaker's father dies, she sees killing herself as a way to become reunited with him. She also declares that she has to kill him. This poem explores the paradoxes of death, the afterlife, and memories of the past. After all, "Daddy" is addressed to a dead person.

    Questions About Mortality

    1. Why do you think the speaker wants to kill her father even though he's already dead?
    2. What is the effect of the speaker's suicide attempt?
    3. What is the effect of the speaker's comparison of herself to a Jew in the Holocaust?
    4. How do you interpret line 71 – "If I've killed one man, I've killed two"?

    Chew on This

    The death of the speaker's father has haunted her for her entire life, causing her to seek her own death.

    The speaker feels that the only way to rid herself of the haunting memories of her father is to metaphorically kill them.

  • The Supernatural

    As we noted under the mortality theme, "Daddy" is addressed to someone who is dead, which already makes the poem pretty supernatural. But it goes even further: there are vampires, devils, and a statue that crosses the entire United States. The speaker, when she tries to die, is even stuck back together with glue. The supernatural elements of this poem make it eerie, and fascinating to read.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. What is the effect of the husband and father's portrayal as vampires?
    2. What is the effect of the father's portrayal as a devil?
    3. What is the effect of the speaker's description of being put back together with glue?
    4. What is the effect of the juxtaposition of the supernatural with historical events like the Holocaust?

    Chew on This

    The speaker of this poem's emotions are supernatural themselves – they are so complex and intense that the supernatural must be used to convey them.

    The speaker's comparison of her husband and father to Hitler, vampires, and devils makes not only these men, but also Hitler, seem like a vampire and a devil.

  • Language and Communication

    The speaker of "Daddy" is addressing her dead father, who she had problems talking to even when he was alive. Maybe this is because he was a German immigrant and couldn't speak English well, or maybe it was because she was scared of him, but in any case, the German language plays into her difficulties. At the end of the poem, the speaker cuts off communications with her father for good. The speaker's struggle to communicate with her father causes her great suffering, demonstrating the power of language.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. How does the German language create communication issues in this poem?
    2. For you, what does this black telephone being cut off at the root symbolize? Why use the imagery of a telephone and plant roots?
    3. The speaker says that she used to pray to recover her father. Now that she's stopped praying, how else does she try to communicate with him?
    4. How much of this poem do you think is an address to the speaker's father, and how much is the speaker thinking to herself?

    Chew on This

    It's ironic that though the speaker claims that she's through with her father, she writes an 80-line poem to cut off communication with him.

    The speaker expresses her inability to communicate in her father's language, German, in order to show his power over her.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    Throughout "Daddy," the speaker is trapped by memories of her father. In the first stanza, she says that she feels she's been living like a foot in a shoe, a metaphor for the confinement that she's been placed in by her father and his memory. Even when she tries to marry, she's trapped into marrying someone like her father.

    Questions About Freedom and Confinement

    1. How do you think the death of the speaker's father changes the nature of how he confines the speaker?
    2. What does the image of the speaker being confined like a foot in a shoe evoke for you?
    3. How does this poem comment on the freedom of women in society, especially in the 1960s?
    4. What comment does this poem's description of marriage make on the idea of freedom and confinement in marriage?

    Chew on This

    The father-daughter relationship in this poem is a metaphor for male-female relationships in general.

    Once the speaker in this poem has escaped the confinement of her father, she ends up confined in marriage to a similar man.