Daddy | Study Guide

Sylvia Plath

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Daddy | Themes


Freedom from Captivity

Above all, "Daddy" is a poem about the oppressive presence of the speaker's father in her life. Although he is long dead, she has lived as though trapped by her feelings about him and the person he has made her even in his absence. She feels she must kill him again—kill the influence he has over her life—in order to be free.

The nature of her oppression is illustrated by the images she chooses to describe him. He is like

  • a shoe that confines a foot,
  • an enormous statue that towers over her life,
  • a Nazi sending Jews to their deaths and calling for a racial purity that doesn't exist,
  • a fascist kicking his woman in the face with a boot,
  • a vampire who holds her captive only to drink her blood.

The speaker is also held captive by her desire for connection with him, which she was denied because of his death. She longs to know which of many similarly named towns he was born in. She prays for him to come back to her. She states, "Every woman adores a fascist," suggesting this love/hate relationship that has her held in thrall. Moreover, the speaker can see her choices in a lover and husband have been dictated by her complex feelings about her father. She can't escape her father because the man she married is a "model" of Daddy, and he, too, hurts her irreparably.

Ultimately, the poem declares "daddy, I'm finally through." Then the speaker kills him with a stake through his black heart, spurring a celebration filled with dancing and stamping on his corpse. This declaration is spoken in a tone of defiance, but the strong emotions of the final stanza leave the reader wondering if the speaker is truly free.


Death is a pervasive presence in the poem. The speaker's father's death occurred when she was just a child, before she was able to work through her childhood conception of him as God. He died while he was still a larger-than-life presence, Godlike and massive. This left her with unresolved emotions that then shaped her life and relationships in unhealthy ways. The poem suggests she felt distant from him even before he died: "I never could talk to you / The tongue stuck in my jaw." This lack of communication before his death, and which continued after his death, adds to the sense of unresolved feelings and her desire to find resolution. Her attempts at resolution included joining him in death: "At twenty I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you."

There are a variety of images in the poem that develop this theme, including concentration camps, the destruction of war, and vampires. Grave and corpse imagery also adds to the general sense of mortality. In Stanza 2 the speaker describes her father as "marble-heavy" and a "[g]hastly statue"—images of cold stone and mausoleums. The bag images in Stanza 2 (a heavy "bag full of God") and Stanza 13 ("they pulled me out of the sack") are visceral, evoking the heaviness of a corpse zipped into a body bag. A vampire is, of course, a dead man who walks and speaks and must drink the blood of the living in order to continue to do so. Because her father, although dead, has such an active presence in her life, he must be considered undead, too. The final image of villagers dancing and stamping on the dead corpse of her father is a macabre end to a poem about killing the undead.

Women and Men

For the most part, the poem is about one woman and two men. The speaker's relationship with her father is the main focus of the poem. Still, it also explores his undead influence on her life by bringing in another man—her husband. The speaker clearly connects her father's effect on her life with the fact she married a man who was a "model" of him. Both men in the poem have harmful effects on the speaker. Both are characterized as vampires and as people who love torture and cause violence and death. Both would boot you in the face even after you've expressed your devotion and love.

The conflation of the speaker's feelings about her father and her husband doesn't end there, however. There are hints the speaker extends her sense of men's effects on women beyond just these particular relationships. The Holocaust imagery suggests a system of oppression and violence, not just an individual case. The line "Every woman adores a fascist" suggests a universal observation the speaker makes about women and men in general. The final stanza involves not just the speaker dancing around the dead body of her father but a whole village of people liberated by his death. These hints suggest the speaker feels her father and husband are representative of men in general or of a certain type of man. They may even represent the patriarchal system that gives them power over women.

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