Buy Bell Jar here
This poem is nearly autobiographical in its' entirety. Beginning the poem, Plath refers to her father who died when she was ten. At this age children still adore their parents unconditionally, and when Plath's father died she was unable to leave this stage for nearly her entire life. Using almost child-like language she refers to her father as an omniprescent force, a domineering and statuesque persona that would hover over her like a storm cloud for her entire life.
Halfway through the poem the context changes. Though she only refers to her model husband towards the end, the reader gets the sense that she is has gotten her husband and father confused. In line 41 she says
I have always been scared of you
Though the word you appears twenty-one times in the poem this is the only one italicized.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
These lines seem to be referring to her lover/husband more than her father, though she continues to vacillate between the two. She calls her husband but a model of her father, and a vampire with a love of the rack and screw. To her, in retrospect, he was but a shell of a human wherin lied a monster who lived off her lifeblood and pain.
Before she even met her husband, however, Plath tried to commit suicide to try to get back to her father.
But they pulled me out of the sack
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
Plath chose her husband based on the model of her father and divorced him after seven years. This poem was written but 3 monthes before her successful suicide, so the last line of the poem is rather ambiguous;
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
There are also several significant war images throughout the poem. So black no sky could squeak through (line 47) refers to the sky being so black that we cannot see any blue because of the smoke and dust emerging from the battlefield. In lines 17-18 the wars in Europe are compared to rollers that level everything like one big horrible force.
Line 9 of the poem refers to the way Plath's father died--by gangrene leading up from the foot (which would be gray).
II. Precis of poem
The speaker of the poem (Plath) lost her father at age ten, when she still nearly idolized him as one who could commit no fault or human error. She compares him to a devil, a nazi, a vampire, and a shoe. Eventually Plath realizes the oppressing dominance of her father and cannot get over the love-hatred that she feels for him. After an attempted suicide in line 58 Plath marries a man very similar to her father in appearance and demeanor, and just as oppressively domineering. She leads a very short and painful marriage, coming to a mysterious climax at the end of the poem where she says I'm through. Through with what, we'll never know.
One gets the impression that Plath wrote the poem for herself alone. Though Plath speaks with a bitterness nearing hatred thoughout the poem, it is rarely towards her father that she directs this bitterness. She calls her father a bag full of God (Line 8) and a ghastly statue with one gray toe/Big as a Frisco seal (lines 9-10) which would give him a ridiculous appearance. This conveys overblown posterity, but not hatred. She directs her hatred toward the german language and the black shoe, never directly revealing the evil nature of her father.
Another theme in the poem is the impossibility of communication. I never could talk to you (line 24) is the most important reason for Plath's difficulties with her father. One barrier to communication was language. Plath had trouble with the German tongue. In line 31-33 she connects the sound of German with the Holocaust.