There Was a Young Woman Who Lived in a Shoe: Understanding the Juxtaposition of Love, Hate, And Patriarchal ConfinementIn Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy”

Stacie M. Connell


In the opening of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy” one glimpses a troubled young woman struggling to break free from patriarchal confinement. In a stark play on imagery, she equates her tomb of darkness to a “black shoe” where she has submissively “lived like a foot//Barely daring to breathe or Achoo” for her entire life (Plath 2-3,5). Plath opens the poem with an oppressive tone of confinement. Her tone is that of a victim unable to break free from the powerful pressing of her father. The daughter is acknowledging her life-long imprisonment through the image of conformity and obedience. Her testimony, “You do not do, you do not do/Anymore.” is an awakening, an ethereal understanding, she is no longer satisfied with being under her father’s foot (Plath 1-2). She mocks her submissiveness and fear by “Barely daring to breathe.” or express her autonomy outside of the domineering treatment designated by her father (Plath 5). “Daddy” juxtaposes the extremely childish and infantile dependency on the image of father versus the inherent desire to break free from the entrapment of masculine dominance. As Maher Mahdi points out in the article “From a Victim of the Feminine Mystique,” Plath is using “aspects of objectification” to create a breakdown of the typical family dynamic between father and daughter (98). The struggle is real, vigorous, and traumatic to the daughter speaking blatantly throughout the lines of “Daddy.” The battle rages as father and daughter fight metaphorically within the confines of the speaker’s mind. Plath offers the war-torn country as a backdrop to ease the reader into a sense of disquiet and upheaval. There is something obscenely immature in her attachment to the deceased father. She loves and hates him, desires her independence yet craves the security of her dependency, and she longs for him and yet strives to exorcise his demon from within her own soul. This emotional upheaval allows the reader to assess the speaker’s mental anguish and analyze “Daddy” on a more complex level. This study will explore 1) The juxtaposition of victim versus villain in the familial relationship of father and daughter; 2) The daughter’s search for autonomy and her unhealthy Oedipus complex; 3) Establishing identity beyond infantile attachment, or as Maher Mahdi points out, breaking free from immaturity requires a certain amount of viciousness in order for the daughter’s true liberation (Mahdi 100); 4) The exposure of the Jekyll and Hyde persona, which is noted by Isabelle Travis as the “blurred line” between recognizing the issues and finding one’s own part in the familial downfall (Travis 279).


Patriarchal Confinement, Masculine Dominance, Emotional Juxtaposition. Victim Mentality, Father/Daughter Dynamics, Infantile Attachment

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