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Childhood Abuse in Poems “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke

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Have you ever seen or had a bad relationship with a male figure in your life? Children around the world get abused every day, weather is physical or mental abuse leaving an impact on their lives forever. In the two poems “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke the main subject that the authors portray is their fathers. “Daddy” and “My Papa’s Waltz” are both still similar but do not have the same tones throughout. Plath and Roethke both show not only a tone towards the father but mental and physical abuse through a childs perspective. Theodore Roethke is a great poet from the 1940’s who wrote throughout the 1960s. Born in Michigan, his father was a German immigrant who dies when Theodore was 14 years old. He later called himself “unhappy”, because of this death in his family. Sylvia Plath was a poet of the 20th century born in 1932 in Boston, who had an obsession with death and emotion. Otto Plath, Sylvia’s father, a German immigrant college professor who died when Sylvia was only 10 years old. She suffered from depression in her undergraduate years because of this led to her death. Plath committed suicide at 32 years old. Sylvia Plath conveys a message in “Daddy” that is letting all of her anger out on her father while Theodore Roethke is showing more of understanding approach, but still showing the relationship that he has had with his father. The small boy that is in “My Papa Waltz” is still understanding what his father has done for the fact he was mistreated as a child. her childhood. Plath was never abused as a child but, he hated what her father has done to others. The tone in both stories “Daddy” and “My Papa Waltz” shows the reader the mental and physical abuse throughout the childhood of the children.

Plath uses a negative tone throughout “Daddy” to show a negative approach towards her father as a child. Throughout the poem “Daddy”, Sylvia Plath points out a lot of issues with her father that impacted her life negatively. The reader can infer that the problems that she used to face seems to bother her in her adult life. The poem “Daddy” seems to be a poem that doesn’t explain to much detail and is very broad the reader might have a hard time seeing the path the Sylvia was going through. The reader may refer to the beginning of the poem, when Sylvia describes the father-daughter relationship and one can assume that it is hatred or hospitality that she has for her father. Such as when Sylvia Plath says, ”Daddy, I have had to kill you.”(line 6). This just shows one the hatred that she has had for her father since she was younger.

Throughout the poem Sylvia shows many forms of hatred that she has had for her father and that was shown in many ways, but this doesn’t mean that she won’t still love her father like any child would. As the father daughter relationship goes this is very common one would say. Plath still doesn’t seem to tell the reader that, but one would just assume that’s how the father daughter relationship would be. Although at the end of the poem Sylvia says, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”(line 80). This tells one that Sylvia is done with her dad and wants nothing to do with him anymore. This all connects with Theodore Roethke’s poem, “My Papa’s Waltz”, in which Theodore Roethke implies that his father was an abusive drunk shown in forms of violence throughout the poem representing the type of relationship his father and him.

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The tones of both of the poems are negative on the abuse aspect of their childhoods. Theodore Roethke represents many of ways that he was mistreated as a child through only a few stanzas. One can start with the first two lines, ”The whiskey on your breath could make a small boy dizzy:”(lines 1-2). Theodore Roethke doesn’t exactly state that the father is an alcoholic but after reading, “My Papa’s Waltz” you can infer that the father is an alcoholic. This is another poem that represents a bond between parent and child that cannot ever be forgotten. The two children will always have to have the thoughts about their fathers and how they remember them as a child. One can infer that the fathers in both of these poems represents a form of hatred to the parent but maintain an unrestricted sense love for the parent as well. The main feeling that us the readers can see by what the authors exhibited is cruelty. The father in “My Papa’s Waltz” had abusive tendencies that one can see in the poem. When Theodore Roethke states, ”You beat time on my head with a palm caked hard by dirt,”(13-14). As one would read this you can take this as an abusive trait that the father has had. This sounds as if the father was just hitting his palm on the top of the little boy’s head. As in “Daddy”, it is hard to depict why she has a hatred for her father.

One may prefer “My Papa’s Waltz”, this would because it is a lot easier to understand. This poem is easier for the audience to connect to, because it is more of all issues the father had, not just one big one. As well as you can really see and picture what the young boy was really going through as a child. Theodore Roethke paints a picture of alcoholism and abuse especially when he starts the poem with, ”The whiskey on your breath could make a small boy dizzy:”(lines 1-2). This allows you to see what the poem is going to be based around. While the broader poem “Daddy”, is harder to see the little things like why the hatred toward her father started. Sylvia used many hateful words that helped the reader see the hatred and disparity. Especially when Sylvia says, “I have always been scared of you,” (line 41). This still doesn’t allow you to see why she hated her father and why she really feels this way towards him.

Although the ways that Sylvia uses to form a sense of hatred are not that easy to find one can assume that this is hate from something her father has done to her. This hate can come from something minor such as when a child is growing up, they go through such a faze as if they hate their parents. As well has Sylvia grew up with depression and this is how she took out the depression and took it out on another different part of her life in this case her father. The two children have similar things in common which is the negative remembrance of each of their fathers. Both had bad experiences with their fathers and it affected their lives then and even when their fathers passed away. This shows that no matter how hard a relationship is, family is still family, and they will always be important to people’s lives forever.

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Childhood Abuse in Poems “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from
“Childhood Abuse in Poems “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
Childhood Abuse in Poems “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2022].
Childhood Abuse in Poems “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2022 Nov 29]. Available from:
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