What does Big Daddy represent in American Horror Story?

Big Daddy is a prominent character that appears in the third season of American Horror Story, subtitled Coven. As one of the main antagonists of the season, Big Daddy takes on an important symbolic role in the overarching narrative. Through an analysis of Big Daddy’s characterization, relationships with other characters, and thematic purpose, it becomes clear that this character represents the oppressive patriarchal system that the witches of the story are fighting against.

Big Daddy’s Characterization

On a surface level, Big Daddy exhibits many of the traits that one would expect from an old-fashioned Southern patriarch. He is the wealthy owner of a large estate, dressing in fine suits and exerting authority over his family and servants. Big Daddy expects complete obedience from the women in his household, flying into violent rages if they step out of line. He is also blatantly racist, treating his Black servants with cruelty and disdain.

These superficial character traits establish Big Daddy as a embodiment of the white male privilege and outdated gender/racial norms that persisted in the South during this time period. However, certain key scenes also reveal that beneath this veneer of masculine control, there is something disturbed and unsettled about Big Daddy.

For instance, when Big Daddy thinks he is alone, he puts on a feminized mask and gown and stares at himself in the mirror. This suggests that he is uncomfortable with the rigid gender role he feels compelled to perform. There are also hints that his cruelty may stem from secrets in his past, such as the fact that his mother abandoned him as a child. While these nuances do not absolve Big Daddy of his abhorrent behavior, they do add layers to his character beyond just being a one-dimensional villain.

Relationships with Other Characters

The relationships between Big Daddy and the other major characters help to establish his symbolic purpose as the embodiment of patriarchy. Two of the most significant relationships to analyze are his family connections to Fiona and Cordelia Goode as well as his contentious dynamic with the servant Queenie.

Fiona and Cordelia Goode

As the Supreme witch, Fiona Goode is one of the most powerful characters in American Horror Story: Coven. However, in the outside world, she is constrained by the expectations placed on women. This is represented by her marriage to Big Daddy; despite her secret magical abilities, she is still confined to being the wife of a controlling man. Fiona both resents and relies on Big Daddy for status and financial security, a complex dynamic that reflects the limited choices available to women at the time.

Their daughter Cordelia is equally stifled by Big Daddy’s patriarchal dominance. In an attempt to protect Cordelia from her own magical abilities, Fiona arranges for her to marry Hank Foxx, a scheming fortune hunter. This prevents Cordelia from fully developing her powers and traps her in another cycle of male control – one that ends terribly when Hank betrays and shoots her. By impeding the growth of these two powerful witches, Big Daddy serves as a obstacle to female empowerment and independence.


The Black servant Queenie suffers horrific abuse as Big Daddy’s slave. He frequently hurls racist epithets at her, violating her mind with a voodoo doll when she talks back. Their interactions underscore how institutionalized racism and misogyny intersect to oppress Black women. However, Queenie eventually turns the tables on Big Daddy by using her own voodoo magic against him, causing his death. Her defiance of his authority represents the injustices within the patriarchal system finally beginning to crumble.

Thematic Significance

Within the broader context of American Horror Story: Coven, Big Daddy takes on an important symbolic purpose. The primary theme of the season is female empowerment, focusing on a coven of witches who strive to overcome the systems that oppress them. Big Daddy serves as the embodiment of these oppressive systems, specifically the violence and constraints inflicted by the Southern patriarchy.

The show also explores racial inequality and discrimination through characters like Queenie. Big Daddy again functions as a representative of these unjust systems, wielding his power to cruelly dominate women of color. His mission to destroy the coven is an attempt to stamp out any form of female resistance or solidarity.

Ultimately, when the witches band together despite their differences and overcome threats like Big Daddy, it is a cathartic triumph over the various forces that marginalize them. Removing Big Daddy’s oppressive presence is a necessary step in the coven reclaiming their power and autonomy. So while he operates as a villain within the narrative, his larger purpose is to represent the institutional sexism and bigotry that the protagonists rally against.


Through his characterization, relationships, and role within the narrative, Big Daddy comes to epitomize the patriarchal systems that oppress the witch protagonists in American Horror Story: Coven. He is the old-fashioned Southern patriarch, exerting toxic dominance over the women in his household. Big Daddy constrains powerful figures like Fiona Goode, hinders Cordelia’s development, and abuses Queenie for both her gender and race. His mission to destroy the coven poses a threat to women attempting to resist and empower themselves. Big Daddy’s ultimate downfall is a victory over the stifling forces of sexism and racism that he represents.

So while this villain drives much of the conflict, his larger purpose is to personify the injustice of the patriarchal status quo. Big Daddy serves as a symbol of what the marginalized witches are struggling against as they fight to assert their power and purpose. By rallying together and vanquishing threats like Big Daddy, they take inspiring steps toward greater equality, freedom, and self-determination.

Character Relationship to Big Daddy Significance
Fiona Goode Wife Constrained by marriage to Big Daddy despite being a powerful Supreme witch
Cordelia Foxx Daughter Forced by Big Daddy into a marriage that prevented her from developing magical abilities
Queenie Servant Suffers racist and sexist abuse by Big Daddy

Key Scenes Demonstrating Big Daddy’s Symbolism

Big Daddy’s explodes in rage when Fiona talks back

This scene in episode 1 shows Big Daddy asserting his dominance over his wife Fiona when she tries to disagree with him. He slaps her across the face and calls her a “filthy whore”, reinforcing gender inequality by not allowing Fiona to challenge him. As the Supreme witch, Fiona has immense power that she is unable to access due to her subservient role as Big Daddy’s wife.

Cordelia has acid thrown at her by Hank Foxx

In episode 10, Cordelia’s husband Hank throws acid in her face, revealing that he has secretly married her for her money and is actually a witch hunter. This brutally underscores how Cordelia’s marriage to an opportunistic man, orchestrated by Big Daddy, prevented her from recognizing her magical potential and left her vulnerable to betrayal and violence.

Queenie uses voodoo against Big Daddy

After enduring Big Daddy’s relentless racist and sexist attacks, Queenie retaliates in episode 12 by using a voodoo doll to inflict pain on him. This shifts the balance of power away from Big Daddy and foreshadows his impending downfall at the hands of the oppressed women he has tormented. Queenie’s defiance represents the previously marginalized beginning to assert themselves and fight back against injustice.

Further Analysis of Big Daddy as Patriarchal Symbol

As discussed earlier, Big Daddy’s relationships with other major characters are very telling regarding his symbolic purpose. Delving deeper into his dynamics with Fiona Goode and Queenie can provide additional insight into how he represents patriarchal oppression.

Nuances in Big Daddy and Fiona’s marriage

While Big Daddy exerts dominance over Fiona, abuse is noticeably absent from their marriage. Fiona even expresses affection for Big Daddy at times. This points to how women constrained by patriarchy will sometimes perpetuate or form emotional bonds with their oppressors as a means of survival. Fiona relies on the status and financial security provided by her marriage, even as she resents losing her autonomy. Her complex attitude exposes some of the insidious nuances in how institutionalized sexism operates.

Queenie’s empowering defiance

In contrast to Fiona’s accommodation, the mistreated Queenie openly defies Big Daddy in ways both subtle and direct. From giving him a silent hateful stare to intentionally causing him pain with her powers, Queenie shows courageous resistance. She refuses to let his abuses break her or compromise her sense of self-worth. Queenie’s actions inspire solidarity from her fellow witches and mark a turning point as the previously oppressed begin to boldly fight back. Her stand against Big Daddy is profoundly empowering.

Big Daddy in Context of larger AHS themes

As mentioned earlier, female empowerment against forces of oppression is a prominent theme in American Horror Story: Coven. Examining how Big Daddy fits into the show’s broader exploration of overcoming marginalization can provide more insight into his role as patriarchal symbol.

Witch solidarity

A key element of the witches’ growth is them moving past internal divisions to unite against shared oppressors like Big Daddy. Fiona and Cordelia mend their fractured relationship, while prejudices based on race and magical abilities are gradually overcome. Forming solidarity allows them to tap into their full collective power.

Owning female power

The coven also becomes more empowered as characters like Zoe, Queenie, and Cordelia more fully own and celebrate their magical gifts, instead of hiding them to conform to societal expectations. Defeating Big Daddy requires the witches embracing the power that makes them different but also gives them strength.

Progress but more work ahead

While Big Daddy’s death marks a major triumph, the season’s ending acknowledges there is still further to go in creating a just society. But his downfall at the hands of those he oppressed shows that progress is achieved through the determined solidarity and courage of the marginalized.

Final Significance of Big Daddy’s Symbolism

At his core, Big Daddy personifies the oppressive force of America’s white male patriarchy that marginalizes women and minorities. His destruction is cathartic for viewers because it offers a fictional yet hopeful confrontation of injustice. Defeating Big Daddy shows that positive change comes when the oppressed stop compromising or hiding and instead resist as a united force. His symbolic presence will likely resonate with many viewers, validating experiences of injustice while also painting a picture of what society could look like if oppressive systems were dismantled through collective action.

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