Friday, July 18, 2014

Poem Review: "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath

Confessional poetry was a movement that primarily took place in America and flowed most actively during the 1950s and 60s. Through this form of writing, poets revealed a hardship they were having in descriptive, but far more direct ways than in just about any other form of writing (except autobiographies or essays). Of course, while the writers went through some difficult situations, we were just coming off the second World War and those who were victims of the Holocaust had truly horrifying accounts and their form of hardship is highly justified. Many of these writers had their own personal struggles, but in many cases could be viewed as highly over the top. A prime example is the most notable and definitive poet of this genre: Sylvia Plath. Of course, others such as Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, and John Berryman were active during this time and I thoroughly enjoy the blunt execution of Sexton, but Plath is definitive in how she represents the struggle that it takes to execute this form. Plath most definitely had a mental and/or emotional condition that caused her hardship throughout her life that led her to attempt and eventually succeed at putting an end to her life. Plath is a subject of pity, but only in the way that she could not meet the treatment suited for her.

One of her most notable works is "Daddy," a poem where she confesses (oh how this word is so appropriate for this post) her hatred for her father. She takes on the theme of how his German background makes him the perfect target of being a Nazi and how she was the Jew in his life, even though she was Unitarian. This is the first piece of evidence in providing a very "over the top" description of her daddy. The relationship is portrayed as abusive and suffocating, even though from initial research, he was a college professor. He died when Plath was eight due to complications from diabetes that he misdiagnosed, developing physical evidence through the gangrene growing on his foot. Plath uses her argument to continue rubbing in the pain he had to go through and how his death caused her even more pain

According to Plath, the interaction with her father was one where she was, "barely daring to breathe or achoo" (L 5) in the nature that she felt emotionally suffocated. Using the term "achoo" provides an auditory effect that allows the sound to be far more dramatic. She does the same with the German language when she mocks her father and his background by mentioning, "your Luftwaffe, your Gobbledygoo" (L 42). She goes even further by mentioning that her daddy worships "not God but a Swastika" (L 46) and how he won her mother over because according to her, "every woman adores a Fascist" (L 48). These are some heavy-handed controversial remarks for an individual not directly attacked by the Holocaust and has boxed themselves into over-thinking their father so outrageously.

She mentions her suicide attempt at the age of twenty, trying to get back to her father before ending with the line, "Daddy, Daddy, you bastard, I'm through" (L 80), but this is dominated by feelings of contradictory. While she asserts that she plans to be over her father, these emotions consume her and her mental state to the point that it leads to her suicide at the age of 30 in 1963. In fact, the assumption that can be made about her Daddy's absence fuming feelings of anger toward him can only be trumped by her abandonment from the life of her own children. Yes, she made sure her sleeping children would be blocked off in every which way from the fumes that would consume her when she stuck her head in an oven, but the fact that these children would have to go through losing a parent at a young age (YOUNGER than when Plath lost her own) due in a closed mind is a degree of heavy selfishness. Yes, Plath did have issues that consumed her as the plague would consume a defenseless village, but everything she said goes off the table and we can affirm that she was a hypocrite for ranting about a monster that she was indirectly become.

Through research, I learned that her father was actually a Nazi sympathizer who was a pro-advocate while he lived in Germany at the rise of their party. This would create a struggle when he began to apply for jobs in America. While he eventually picked up a job, he remained silent on the world issues going on around him. Before learning this, I held belief that Plath was painting an incredibly biased picture that was driven by a mix of hardship and the inability to control it psychologically. After reading this, I see the creation of a very legitimate argument. At the same time, Plath's mental state of mind is still outrageous. Of course, there are two ways to handle your personal issues when it comes to raising your children. A.) Take out that particular struggle on your children or B.) Make a better life for them so that they do not have to endure the same monster you had to. Plath took the path of A and in reality, it is the children that lose out. Plath became Daddy, not in the way that she was a Nazi sympathizer, but how she created an environment of hurt with not being around. Even if she had good intentions by not physically hurting her children, not having someone who could overcome a struggle to give them a good life with a motherly figure creates an emotional hurt.

I cannot recommend her collection of poetry, I am just unable to do so. It is accessible at Barnes & Noble and I could easily get it off of Amazon, but the most I can do is print out what ever interests me at the time. I hold sympathy for anyone that goes through an act of mental hardship and hold high hope that they are able to seek the help that they need. It is also very important to support the act of suicide prevention, for it is NEVER the right solution to the problem. It is the most effective, but most dreadful long-term solution one can think up of. What this poem creates is an outrageous picture that is legitimate with the right research, but an image of self-pity when just the initial research is taken into account. While you feel that you need to fish about your emotions of sympathy, it is quite difficult to do so. All you can do is wish that the right amount of psychiatric help can be obtained. Unfortunately for Plath, the right amount of help never came.

I will be discussing this work with my friend, Jim, on an episode of Literary Gladiators this upcoming season and I will just say that we are completely split at the table. While I will highly suggest that you refrain from buying the collection, I will post a link to the poem so that you can read it and follow along.