Argue that our feelings for our fathers are complex, not simple

Table of Content

Thesis Statement

Both Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” and Lucille Clifton’s “forgiving my father” depict the complicated nature of feelings towards fathers.

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As an individual goes through life, they will eventually realize that the continuation of complex relationships can greatly impact those involved. The nature of these relationships can have either a positive or negative effect, depending on their characteristics and intensity. It is a common trait for humans to conceal their emotions and display an arrogant demeanor. However, those who defy this societal inclination will rebel against any form of deception. In Lucille Clifton’s poem “forgiving my father,” the narrator describes a daughter who is disturbed by memories of conflict between her and her father. The speaker of the poem desires to hold her father accountable for his flaws rather than making excuses for him. The father in the poem betrays the child in multiple ways. In Clifton’s elegy, the speaker is at risk due to the emotional agony and financial instability caused by her father. The speaker uses a financial debt as a metaphor for a debt of love and affection. This poem depicts the father’s inability to provide the necessary protection for his family, leading to the premature death of the speaker’s mother and causing emotional distress for the speaker. The speaker even feels bothered by her father when she is resting, as expressed in the line “All week you have stood in my dreams/like a ghost, asking for more time” (line 3-4).The speaker is worried about how a ghost can pay debts and ask for more time. The term “ghost” represents the speaker’s concern about unpaid debts and lack of care.

In the poem “daddy,” the stanzas dealing with the speaker’s relationship with her father are filled with a sense of failure and grief. It is important to note that while the overall tone of the poem is irritated, there is no clear antagonism expressed in the first part. However, in the second stanza, the speaker begins by saying “Daddy, I have had to kill you.” Although this line is placed in a stanza still carrying tones of sorrow and apology, it suggests that the confession stems from remorse rather than anger. The speaker feels compelled to eliminate her father due to her circumstances dictating this decision. The emotions conveyed still resonate with what she believes her father should have provided for her, as evident in referring to his dead body being contained in a body-bag described as a “bag full of God.” She also mourns, stating “I used to pray to recover you.” Her father passes away just as she was beginning to feel close to him but without enough time to truly get acquainted. He was taken away before she could establish her independence. The intense resentment felt by the speaker is not directed at her father but rather towards her failed husband who served as a replacement. These contrasting emotions sharply contrast with the tone established in the first half of the poem.The speaker recounts a suicide attempt when she was twenty years old, expressing her desire to return to someone she deeply cares about. The speaker expresses doubt about the idea of doing something kind for someone they despise. Despite the passing of her father at an early age, the speaker acknowledges that he did not harm them in any way (Henderson, p-139).

In the poem “Forgiving My Father,” the speaker acknowledges that her father failed to adequately provide for her mother. She expresses a longing for him to possess wealth so that she could have everything she desired and give her mother the treatment she deserved. The speaker believes that her father did not offer enough to her mother, stating that he gave her everything he had, which turned out to be nothing. Despite recognizing that his financial situation may not have been entirely under his control, the speaker is clearly upset about his lack of resources. Additionally, the speaker conveys disappointment in her father’s unreliability and inability to meet their financial needs. Comparatively, she sees her parents’ marriage as an unfortunate circumstance where compatibility was lacking for both parties involved. The speaker questions why matrimony cannot be a joyful and harmonious union instead of something arduous to navigate.

Similarly, the speaker’s innocent tone in “Daddy” highlights the sincerity of her repentance. This innocence is emphasized in various ways, including the very approach she takes to deal with her father’s death: attempting to bring him back and marry him instead of facing and healing from the loss. This archaic coping mechanism evokes the image of a child who creates imaginary friends when she needs them in reality. Another example of the speaker’s naivety is presented by Alvarez, who points out the recurring “oo” sound throughout the poem, particularly in lines like “Brute heart of a brute like you” (line 50), where the harsh message is softened by the “oo” sounds. The essence of this tenderness, which is woven into the poem’s word structure, emerges when the speaker affectionately states, “Daddy, you can lie back now” (line 75). Despite being followed by more extreme and offensive descriptions, it is significant that this line stands apart from that imagery with a break.

The poem reflects on the speaker’s struggles with forgiving her father, questioning why she collects things and noticing that her parents are buried in debtor’s boxes rather than treasuries. The speaker realizes that no amount of accounting can reveal their secrets and understands that her deceased father’s commitment will forever remain unfinished. She contemplates absolving his debt but also sees him as dangerous, with bitterness and abandonment defining their relationship. Additionally, the speaker asserts that her grandfather suffered deprivation similar to her father, highlighting a history of destitution within the family. This worries the speaker about her own future, as her father sets a bleak path for her to follow. Clifton’s poem presents the father as an unseen threat to the speaker. The term “Daddy” encompasses both Plath’s estranged husband and biological father, evoking feelings of hatred towards the former while expressing regret for bringing chaos upon herself and revealing profound love and sorrow at experiencing her beloved father’s death for the first time.

Both “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “Forgiving My Father” by Lucille Clifton portray the intricacies of feelings towards fathers, as deduced from the previous discussion.

Works Cited

Clifton Lucille, “Forgiving my father.” Retrieved on October 31, 2006 from

The book called “Literature and Ourselves: A Thematic Introduction for Readers and Writers” is edited by Gloria Mason Henderson, Bill Day, and Sandra Stevenson Waller. According to APA format, it should be referenced as follows:

Henderson, G. M., Day, B., & Waller, S. S. (1997). Literature and Ourselves: A Thematic Introduction for Readers and Writers (2nd ed.). New York: Longman.

Plath, Sylvia edited a book called Ariel, which was published by Harper and Row in 1961.


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