Confessional Poetry and ‘Lady Lazarus’

The debate suggests why confessional poetry’s blurring of distinctions between public and private worlds was freighted with social meaning that extended beyond matters of aesthetic value. Postwar social transformations – like the growth of corporations and the expansion of suburbs – seemed to corrupt Americans’ desire for autonomy and freedom. Often linked, these trends created two of the most familiar targets of 1950s social censure: the ‘organisation man’, who relinquished his individuality to the corporation, and the suburban homeowner, who sought perfect conformity with the neighbours. Continue reading “Confessional Poetry and ‘Lady Lazarus’”

A Psychoanalytic Reading of ‘Daddy’

Before its publication she read ‘Daddy’ for a BBC radio broadcast in October 1962, and later, in notes for the BBC on her new poems, described the poem as ‘spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. Her father died while she thought he was God.’ The girl’s ‘case’, Plath proceeds to explain, is difficult because the father was a Nazi, and the mother may have been ‘part Jewish’. These two inheritances meet in the daughter and ‘paralyse each other – she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it’ (CP, p293, n183). Plath directs her reader to interpret the poem through the lens of a popular psychoanalytic narrative: a daughter with an Electra complex is one who desires her father sexually, her body incestuously devoted in this instance to a dead man’s, as Electra’s was to her father Agamemnon’s. In a state of unfulfilled and impossible desire, the daughter’s story might be one of static sexual frustration and father-worship; but Plath also insists on a paralysis of sexual roles historically derived from the Holocaust. Because the father is not just a dead God, but also a Nazi, and the mother ‘very possibly part Jewish’, Daddy is also a sadistic villain, and the daughter’s feminine sexuality is marked by the mother’s role as a victim, possibly in a masochistic relation to the father. As the speaker of ‘Daddy’ generalises, ‘Every woman adores a Fascist.’ Continue reading “A Psychoanalytic Reading of ‘Daddy’”