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In Plath’s “Ariel” Collection she expresses anger at a patriarchal society and the sufferings patriarchy brings, confining women to their sphere and archetypes. Women are described as “voiceless, confined, dehumanized and dismembered because of patriarchy”, the adoption of the Jewish metaphor to dramatize the collective female helpless response in what is the face of male assertive power. In “Daddy”, Plath uses the framework of her ambivalent relationship with her father- who symbolizes patriarchy-to present a vivid image of female exploitation and oppression, living in terror to “breathe” or “sneeze” in the face of a tyrannous paternal figure. This illustrates the subdued nature of the speaker who yearns for an individual and autonomous female identity “ich, ich, ich, ich” (meaning “I” in German) but is unable to carve one through her inability to express her father’s tongue. How ironic, the speaker’s association of self is still deeply rooted in her father’s, showing the extension of male oppression in not just “daddy” but the collection as a whole.

The poem starts with the speaker referencing her father as a “black shoe”, stating that she has “lived like a foot” for “thirty years”. Here Plath is using a “deliberately awkward metaphor” to depict the confined nature she has been subjected to for thirty years, encompassing a small black space figurative of the belittling of women in the face of patriarchy. Her deprivation of movement also plows through, metaphorical of the controlling aspects of a male-centric society, dictating even the most minute actions such as “breath[ing]”. The presence of patriarchal figures administering the speaker’s life is also reflective of the structure, “Daddy” is made up of sixteen regular quintains that never falls out of formation. However, when read orally, we are exposed to a “unique oral experience”: the inconsistent rhyme scheme, syllable counts, and the repetitive nature of the ‘-oo’ German dialect contrasting with the established structural norm, foreshadowing the future neglect of male authority. Also, the irregularity together with the rhymes of “you”-for which the reader must “create the shape of a baby’s sucking lips”- is significant as it spotlights and reinforces the belittled and ridiculed female speaker who is seen as childlike. This is emphasized by the stylistic choices of the onomatopoeic and simplistic language such as “Achoo” echoing childlike rhetoric. But, as “Daddy” progresses, Plath’s language becomes increasingly complex and riddled with symbols (“ ….“), extended metaphors (“Chuffing me off like a Jew”), and increasingly polysyllabic language. This all further illustrates the breaking away from male assertive power and their oppressive ideals.

In “Daddy”, this image of male oppression is closely interrelated with identity. Male vices have become so ingrained in the speaker’s society, that oppression is all known. The speaker repeats “ich, ich, ich, ich”, meaning “I” which is related to the idea of oneself and being. Due to the prolonged nature of victimization, the speaker finds it difficult to express or be her true individual self shown through the repetition and reluctance to view themselves as someone separate, an “I”. However, this inability to express herself is shown through the lens of her father’s language, German. This shows how the speaker’s identity will always be through the lens of her father’s tongue, making any attempts at individuality a mere facade as oppression even seeps through language and culture. This idea of identity and individuality is also expressed in her poem “The Applicant”, in what is a similar male dominating society.

In “The Applicant”, females are described as “living dolls” in a lexical field of consumerist language embedded in a distinct one-sided dialogue. The use of commercial language in combination with the reference to females as “dolls” serves to represent an attempt to conceal and isolate individuality underneath mass-produced merchandise. Male oppression in “The Applicant” also appears in the stereotypical portrayal of gender roles, Plath hinting at the expressionist ideology governing females, stating “bring teacups and roll away headaches”. Furthermore, this inability to communicate or elicit a sense of self is also shown through repetition, this time, the noun “talk, talk the talk”, whilst the ‘applicant’ is never given any real opportunity to fill that space with a response. Again, both figures are left disparaged in the face of patriarchy, unable to communicate or express an opposition (Daddy: “I could hardly speak”).

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Additionally, as “Daddy” progresses, we are introduced to the intergenerational nature of male oppression, the speaker’s victimization extended now to her husband, “a man in black with a Meinkampf look”, the continuing Nazi rhetoric telling of the speaker’s continued anguish. This husband is said to have “dr[unk]” the speaker’s “blood for a year”, showing the paralyzing and draining effect of patriarchy through the universal telling image of vampirism. It also serves to highlight a predisposition to oppression saying “The vampire…said he was you”, still showing an instinctive trust even to those who have repressed and misused them, conveying the patriarchal consequences to be more than just short-term or physical, but also psychological and long term. What’s interesting is that “Mein Kampf” translated into English means both “my struggle” and “my fight”, extending the previous ambivalent relationship with her father and displacing it onto her new husband Also, the same ascribed “black” is given to both figures, connoting and foreshadowing the eventual death of both authoritarian leaders. But, “black” is also an absence of color, depth, and hue painting the men in the speaker’s life as stereotypical oppressive beings that carry a cold and stern demeanor both physically and emotionally.

However, in “Tulips”, the speaker’s husband is said to be “smiling out of the family photos” juxtaposing with the male characteristics in “Daddy”. But, the quote finishes as “My husband and child smiling out of the family photos; their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks”. The semicolon here is separating two closely interrelated clauses, suffering is still occurring and the “husband” is still injuring the speaker shown through the subversion of what is supposed to be a pure and affectionate metaphor.

But, unlike both “Tulips” and “The Applicant”, “Daddy” does progress and the speaker does grow to change the somber and heavy dynamic to one now tailored towards emancipation and freedom. The speaker performs a metaphorical murder-” If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two”-developing a personal fantasy of revenge and confrontation- defying submissive norms that are reminiscing of that of “Lady Lazarus”; where the speaker also identifies with the Jewish victims of the holocaust. In “Lady Lazarus”, the speaker performs a theatrical strip tease, a public resistance to the social discourse surrounding females, the speaker’s patronizing “Do I terrify” also illustrates a rebellion towards patriarchy as an oppressive and undermining ideology. This theme of publicity is also shown in “Daddy” through the plural use of “villagers” who “never liked” the speaker’s husband. Here, they are also said to be “dancing” conveying again the inversion of a restrictive patriarchal identity, to one that is psychologically and physically unchaining. Thus, in both “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus”, Plath-through theatricality-attempts to convert male oppression into something empowering and commendable, with feminist critics echoing a female transformation “from passive victim to active avenger”.

Given this, “Daddy” aligns itself with Plath’s wider concerns of not only male oppression but also growing challenges to this rhetoric. The once confining figure can now “lie back now” as an autonomous female identity is being crafted shown through the last line “Daddy, daddy I am through”. 

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