For a Fatherless Son
by Sylvia Plath
You will be aware of an absence, presently,
The Poet and Her Poem
Sylvia Plath is a fascinating person and both her work and her life are the center of much speculation and commentary. One aspect of her life that relates directly to the poem above is the fact that she lost her father at the age of 8. She admired her father greatly and was deeply affected by his death. She married in her 20s, they divorced just a couple of years after the birth of their first child when he left her for one of his college students. She saw a future with no father for her son. This poem communicates her concern for her son based on her own fatherless life. In the last few months of her life she wrote many poems. The one above was written about a year before her suicide.
Sylvia seemed to see bearing children as the goal of her life. She thought it would be the great accomplishment of her life and would give her the fulfillment she sought. It didn't, however. Her work seems to indicate a lack of attachment to her children and a cynical attitude toward them at times.
The poem above illustrates the complex emotions that I think she had for her children.
This stanza shows her sympathy for the absence of her child's father in his life. She acknowledges that he is too young to be fully aware but that as he grows so will the impact of his father's absence. She describes it as a growing death tree. She seems to feel true sorrow for her son in this stanza.
The use of the words "dumb" and "stupidity" are derogatory and insult her child. They represent the child's lack of understanding at this time in his life but her choice of words is not loving here. She describes a blind mirror, describing how she sees herself. She feels empty. Then she describes joy she feels as her son plays with her, grabbing her nose.
She describes a very desperate time that her son will go through in the future as the reality of not having a father hits him. "Till then your smiles are found money" describes the unexpected joy that her son's smiles bring her.
There are many varied opinions on Sylvia Plath and there are endless interpretations of any given poem. It's one of the fascinating things about any art form. These are my thoughts on "For a Fatherless Son". I would love to hear your thoughts.