Sister Spirits From Different Worlds
by Professor Carmen Eichman
The poems "Daddy," by Sylvia Plath and "Tenderness," by Lisa Zaran illuminate father-daughter and self-identity issues women
continue to struggle with today. Whether a woman grew up in the 1940's or is now a young woman in the beginning of the twenty-first
century, the writings of Plath and Zaran remind readers that these issues continue to exist within the lives of women. This
examination will address the importance of father daughter relationships as they are emphasized in "Daddy" and "Tenderness,"
in addition to how both authors struggle with identity and placement as a result of the absence of their fathers.
Recent research has discovered and continues to discover the importance of the father's role in the healthy psychological,
emotional, and social development of young girls. Dr. Margo Maine asserts in her book entitled, Father Hunger: Fathers Daughters
and the Pursuit of Thinness, "Dads need to understand what a girl's life is like today in this globalized, highly technological
culture. A father has to be able to understand the pressures on a girl today in all areas of her life and he has to show interest
in who she is and in her activities." The following lines from Sylvia Plath's famous and one of her most successful poems,
"Daddy," demonstrates the emotional impact the loss of her father left on her. "But no less a devil for that, no not/Any less
the black man who/Bit my pretty red heart in two./I was ten when they buried you./At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back,
back to you./I thought even the bones would do./But they pulled me out of the sack,/And they stuck me together with glue."
Plath lost her father when she was nine years old. This left a traumatic impact on her psychological development and possibly
impaired her ability to engage in healthy, trusting future relationships with men. Perhaps as a result of this loss, she suffered
from severe depression, seeking several times to end her life until she was finally successful in doing so after she married
and had two small children.
Lisa Zaran also speaks of her father in her poetry, which indicates a possible tenuous relationship, suggesting feelings of
sadness or despair. In her poem, "Tenderness," she writes, "I am afraid/that when I go mad,/my father will bow his downy head/into
his silver wings and weep./My daughter, O my daughter."In her poem, "Talking to My Father Whose Ashes Sit in a Closet and
Listen," Zaran further demonstrates the importance between a father and daughter, even when the girl has become a woman, when
she writes, "I stand at the closet door, my hand on the knob,/my hip leaning against the frame and ask him/what does he think
about the war in Iraq/and how does he feel about his oldest daughter/getting married to a man she met on the Internet./Without
eyes, my father still looks around./He sees what I am trying to do, sees that I have grown less passive with his passing,/understands
my need for answers only he can provide."
These two poems also bring to light issues involving self-identity. Plath, according to interpretation, makes references to
her philandering and famous poet husband, Ted Hughes, when she writes, If I've killed one man, I've killed two/The vampire
who said he was you/And drank my blood for a year,/Seven years, if you want to know./Daddy, you can lie back now." Girls learn
from their fathers how they are to be treated as women. When young girls do not have this modeling to follow, whether through
lack of appropriate role modeling or absence, women may regretfully seek men who are emotionally and possibly physically
abusive. While Ted Hughes was not known to be a physically abusive man, the movie "Sylvia" depicting Sylvia Plath's life,
provides evidence that not only did Ted Hughes have an affair during their marriage, but that he neglected his two children
with Plath, in order to devote time to the child he conceived with the woman with whom he had the affair. Perhaps Ted's behavior
was fueled by Plath's insecurities in women's attraction to her husband, women including not only admiring fans but students
as well. Ted may have grown uncomfortable with Plath's suspicions about his fidelity, which could have contributed to his
decision to become adulterous. Regardless of reasons that drove Ted Hughes to sabotage his marriage through infidelity, the
result lead to Plath's increased depression and subsequent suicide. Interestingly enough, Plath, an educated woman who helped
contribute financially to the marriage, chose the kitchen in which to kill herself; the kitchen widely known as the sphere
Lisa Zaran wrestles with identity in her poetry. Again, we look to Zaran's words found in her poem, "Tenderness." "Can I become
what I want to become?/Neither wife or mother./I am no one and nobody is my lover./that when I go mad,/my father will bow
his downy head /into his silver wings and weep./My daughter, O my daughter." And again, this issue ties directly back to the
father figure with the last lines emphasizing the daughter role and the desire to please the father or to be unconditionally
loved by the father. Both Plath and Zaran must conceptually and emotionally work through their father daughter relationship
issues as both poets' fathers are deceased. According to Dr. Bruce Ellis, formerly post-doctorate fellow at Vanderbilt University,
now residing at the University of Cantebury in New Zealand, "...it's the fathers' involvement, rather than the mothers',
which seems to be paramount to the age of the girls' development." Zaran continues this quest through her poem, "Getting Back."
"Here it is ten years since my father died
and yet he continues to crouch in my mind,
his criticism as real today as when I was twelve,
his voice as prolonged as a tossed stone
skipping across the water of Diaz lake.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
His expression, except for his eyebrows,
which are always raised, the rest just
a flat table. Eyes like two satchels
with their drawstrings closed.
Nobody coming in, nothing going out.
Just one of his mottos. The other:
children should be seen and not heard.
Noise! Noise! Noise!
I shout into his dead dead ears."
Through this brief examination of Sylvia Plath's poem "Daddy" and Lisa Zaran's poem "Tenderness," "Talking to My Father Whose
Ashes Sit in a Closet and Listen," and "Getting Back," the relationship between a father and daughter is significant in the
psychological and emotional well-being of a girl's development into womanhood. This same relationship, as demonstrated in
the poems, will also determine a woman's subsequent relationships with other men as evidenced in Plath's "Daddy." As men and
women continue to re-identify themselves with each passing generation, poetry will continue to reflect shared historical and
contemporary issues that affect individuals today.
Ellis, Bruce, Ph.D. et al.
www.sciencedaily.com Vanderbilt University, September 27, 1999 "Father Daughter Relationship Crucial to When a Girl Reaches Puberty," ‘Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology’
Maine, Margo, Ph.D.
www.alameda.networkofcare.org"Father Daughter Relationships, Eating Disorders Examined"
Canada Newswire English, February 7, 2007.
Plath, Sylvia. "Daddy." Ariel. 1966
Zaran, Lisa "Getting Back." The Argotist
Zaran, Lisa. "Talking to My Father Whose Ashes Sit in a Closet and Listen". Summer, 2004.
Zaran, Lisa. "Tenderness." 2RiverView. 10.1, Fall 2005
Professor Carmen Eichman
B.S.- Kansas State University, 1988
M.A.- Kansas State University, 2004
Poetry: Compare and Contrast Essay (Sample for students)
Danville Community College, Danville, Virginia