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Daughter by Pearl Jam

Album: Vs.Released: 1993Charted:
97
18
  • This was written from the perspective of a girl with a learning disability called dyslexia and her mother who doesn't understand the condition. Eddie Vedder explained in Pearl Jam - The Illustrated Story:
    The child in that song obviously has a learning difficulty. And it's only in the last few years that they've actually been able to diagnose these learning disabilities that before were looked at as misbehavior, as just outright rebelliousness. But no one knew what it was. And these kids, because they seemed unable or reluctant to learn, they'd end up getting the s--t beaten outta them. The song ends, you know, with this idea of the shades going down so that the neighbors can't see what happens next. What hurts about s--t like that is that it ends up defining people's lives. They have to live with that abuse for the rest of their lives. Good, creative people are just f--king destroyed." (thanks, Snorkyller - Quebec City, QC)
  • The album was originally titled "Five Against One." The band changed their mind and decided to call it "Pearl Jam," then decided on "Vs." Some copies were already printed as "Pearl Jam" before they renamed it.
  • Bass player Jeff Ament took the photo that appears on the album cover. It shows a sheep gnawing through a wire fence, and represented trying to get out from a cage.
  • During the short instrumental break, Pearl Jam often extends the song by adding a short song or poem in live shows. (thanks, Elliot - St. Louis, MO)
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Comments: 57

I used to have a friend (deceased) who had Auditory dyslexia (of the hearing) in which he would hear words backwards or unclear (Shoulder would sound like soldier, etc...). So that could be a possibility...Zero - Nowhere, Nj
Rather than dyslexia, I'd suggest the learning disorder is Asperger's or some other autism-spectrum disorder.Molly - Niagara Falls, Ny
Eddie Vedder struggled with dyslexia as a child. His mother would use picture flash cards in attempt to help him learn. In this song he is expressing his gratitude to her for never giving up on him. The song was originally entitled, "Brother" but was changed to "Daughter" because it sounds better.Jamie - Green Bay, Wi
Whatever the song is about ~ IT SERVES IT'S PURPOSE! It has all of these people talking about it and discussing it's virtues and merit!
Eddie is NO DUMMY! A person becomes an artist to do just this.... evoke emotion and controversy not to mention losing sleep at 2 AM typing on a song-chat website!
I am dyslexic and have an EXTREMELY successful, powerful mother that I could NEVER measure up to her . She always said I wasn't trying in school and if I wanted good grades I would buckle down and JUST DO IT....Because that is all she had to do. It always came easy to her. So for "ME" this song is about dyslexia. To a victim of sexual assault it might mean just that.... Child Sexual Assault. So as long as it is a GREAT song it is doing it's job! Thanks Pearl Jam, keep 'em coming!
Shannon - Prineville, Or
Richard from New York, NY is spot on.

The song is about child sexual abuse (I think by a step-father, rather than the father - but that's a matter of interpretation) - sung from the child's perspective to the mother.

It's an angry song because the "daughter" is angry with her mother for letting it happen.

That's
Kat - Adelaide, Australia
I agree with Sarah. The song is about a person who transitioned from daughter to son. This is more common than previously thought. The gender spectrum runs a scale from zero to 100. Zero is asexual. 100 is complete heterosexual. There are many shades of gray regarding gender identity -- and the child in the song appears to identify with the other sex. It is painful to be called daughter -- he is the mother's son. Not fit to be daughter, but fit to be son -- yet the picture will remind him that the world sees a daughter, not a son. Many children born with this condition find the world exceedingly confusing as they grow up because they expect to be, in this example, a son, not a daughter. Gender identity is a state of being and cannot be explained without further studies (Each year, new studies confirm the brain differences between male and female is found in the brain, with a female-to-male person actually possessing chemical measurements consistent with a male brain, and vice versa.) The song is sad. But it has a particular strength -- and a stubborn insistence (through repitition.Mary - Louisville, Ky
I have a personal relationship with this song; although it may have been written about a girl with a learning disability. I don't have a learning disability but I grew up with a very abusive mother (physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive). After my father's passing in 2009, things got even worse between us...Listening to this song always helped to inspire me to rise above her and her abuse and survive her ways. I can proudly say I'm 18 years old and finally made it out of there and I truly feel like I HAVE RISEN ABOVE. This song really helped me cope through tough times and I don't know where I'd be without it. Amazing &Inspiring Song.!!Sarah - Kokomo, In
I imagine a young woman who is reflecting on her dysfunctional mother and a painful upbringing. She is remebering how life was and what she endured just to survive.Gus - Fort Smith, Ar
When you really read the lyrics it is pretty obvious to me it is a learning disability. As far as the "Don't call me daughter, not fit to", the last chorus says "not fit to be" which shows that the girl is ashamed, not that the parents are doing anything sexual. "She holds the hand that holds her down she will rise above" says to me that she is not going to give up and even though her disability holds her down she is going to hold on and conquer it.Jen - Independence, Mo
I have always believed that the daughter in the song is being sexually abused by her father. The song though is being sung to her mother for allowing it to happen.Richard - New York, Ny
I don't believe anyone here is arguing. Just offering a different interpretation. Regardless of what a song is written about, I believe a song's interpretation is up to the listener. I also believe a song's meaning can change over time. E.g. Ed Kowalczyk said that when written, Lightning Crashes to him was about 'living and dying' and now he believes it to be about 'Rising and Faling'. I like to think that Eddie could read what we have written here and it could change his own interpretation of the song he wrote. In regards to Daughter; I see the dyslexia. I also see a lack of understanding from the mother. "don't call me daughter, not fit to be" The mother is making the girl feel inadequate. I see abuse that is likely verbal and neglectful, likely due to the mothers lack of understanding of the situation. "Picture kept" is a mental picture of her mother. "She holds the hand that holds her down" (mom's hand) because in the dark and isolation (shades go down) many people have nobody else to turn too. It's hard to pull away from this type of abuse as she is already feeling inadequate. It takes lots of strength to overcome this. In the end, the girl triumphs over adversity and 'rises above'.Karl - The River City, Mb
This is ridiculous how you all are arguing. You all have your own interpretations as to what the song is about, but it does not mean you should value other peoples beliefs over your own. Little lone ARGUE your point over theirs, because only the song writer knows what it is written about. I agree it is a beautiful song with the melodies, and the lyrics are beautiful as well, but you are ruining the song by arguing over something as listeners we are unsure of. From my point of view all of you that argue over this are childish and unreasonable, arguing over who is right and whos wrong is not going to give you the answer. Stick to your own beliefs because those are the only ones that matter. But you have no right to tell someone their wrong, because songs effect people in different ways. Take example of the song "When you say nothing at all" it was meant as a love song and parents with children that have the disability to talk seen in a different way. Don't you see it doesn't matter what it is written about, just what it means to you :)Matthew - Atlanta, Georgia
I believe this song was intended for the listener
to feel and visualize, through the "eyes of the child" what its like having a learning disability, a feeling like living in a different world.Stuck and feeling trapped. It is very painful and often misunderstood. The child feels
anguish,frustrated, as well as having a poor self image, being different in a world that surrounds.
Feeling like a failure and dissapointment to those they love. And feeling like not being able to perform adaquately in a world that sometimes doesnt understand and punishes. I think the lyrics from this perspective are beautifully written and the music that is paired,felt.
"Violence" I believe is what the daughter feels internally-often chaos and confusion-not being able to understand.

"The shades go down, it's in her head
Painted room...can't deny there's something wrong"...
I believe the mother here is saying that she realizes the daughter cant help it, sees her daughter in the dark(the shades go down)-she doesnt understand, can't get it right.(painted room) could imply that the mother knows her daughter is otherwise bright and colorful.

This lyrics go on..."Don't call me daughter, not fit to
The picture kept will remind me
Don't call me daughter, not fit to be
The picture kept will remind me(the daughter can VISUALIZE" and "KEEPS that mental "PICTURE" in her own mind not being able to succeed as her mom is READING IT OUTLOUD" ..As I mentioned above, I think the daughter is feeling so inadequate and is in pain and feels like a failure to her Mom,and would with others as well. AGAIN, through HER EYES not her MOM'S.

"She holds the hand that holds her down
She will...rise above...ooh...oh"...Could this perhaps imply that the Mother recognizes all of this is, and is helping to keep her daughter on the ground.meaning "grounded".supporting holding her hand ..and then the Mother saying "She will rise above"..the mother believing wanting her
to succeed. Most parents want this for their children..
I believe this mother gets it in my opinion. from reading and listeneing to these lyrics. I have been an advocate for childrn withn learning disabilities and have not only watched these children struggle professionally but seen it personally as well. It makes all the difference
to the child whos parents get it as well as the world in which the child lives in. I do not believe this Mother is holding her daughter down to the contrary.
Joy - Boston, Ma
Why does it ruin a song to speculate on its meaning? It's beautiful musically, yes, but clearly it's a true bit of poetry too, which only adds to the value. If you don't care about the lyrical implications, your loss - there are plenty of bands who will be happy to entertain you. But if you've found a lyrical enigma to go with a musical work of art, why would you waste that treasure? Worse, why would you belittle someone who wants to explore it? I always took the "sexual abuse" theme from the song myself, but the posts about dyslexia, adoption, and codependency are fascinating - things I'd never considered. There are as many interpretations of art as there are minds on the planet. What's more valuable than something as eloquent as this song that demonstrates such diversity of perspective?Allen - Cincinnati, Oh
um i just finished reading these facts and i completely agree with sarah your all ruining this song by arguing ...but i did see an interview about the song and this is what Eddie Vedder said they wrote the song about:The child in that song obviously has a learning difficulty. And it's only in the last few years that they've actually been able to diagnose these learning disabilities that before were looked at as misbehaviour, as just outright rebelliousness. But no one knew what it was. And these kids, because they seemed unable or reluctant to learn, they'd end up getting the s--t beaten outta them. The song ends, you know, with this idea of the shades going down--so that the neighbours can't see what happens next. What hurts about that is that it ends up defining peoples' lives. They have to live with that abuse for the rest of their lives. Good, creative people are just destroyedEmily - Chicago, Il
okay you want to know what i think... i think you should all shut up and stop arguing to one another about what the song means ...unless you met pearl jam and asked them yourself what it meant THEN YOU DONT KNOW . in the meantime ... who cares if you like the song listen to it dont get caught up in all the technical stuff ...it really is an amazing song and youre all ruining it by arguing about it .Sarah - New York, Ny
as an adoptee i can relae to what alatriel is saying---but i believe that the relationship between the mother and daughter is CODEPENDENT. no matter what her mother reads to her/instructs her in how to live, the daughter is doomed to fail because she will never be good enough (fellow codependents will recognize this.) so....how is she alone if she is in a codependent relationship? the answer is: she is always alone in a codependent relationship. "she holds the hand that holds her down"...."tries to make her proud" --could this be any clearer? as to whether this girl has dyslexia or another mental dis-ease, this is probable. however, scott is wrong concerning the nature of autism (as i am a special education teacher) i call tell you that chilfdren diagnosed with autism are usually visual learners and use pictures or othert visuals to process incoming data. children with a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum DO REMEMBER THINGS and CAN PAT ATTENTI0N to things that interest them (ex: i have a student who knows everything there is to know about dinosaurs, and another is fixated on airplanes.) They are not so confused that they don't know who their parents are. in fact, most people with autism are wonderful people--more sensitive, gentle, loving and generous than others. that said, my further explication of this song is that, in her relationship with her mother, she will never be good enough. Her father is merely a spectator of this push-pull relationship that can turn to violence, and sometimes this is necessary to "break away"---the father cannot heal something he cannot understand. making a child codependent is abusive, and the girl cannot change her mother, she can only change herself, and she will "rise above" --she must if she is to survive the perpetuated abuse (mother reading=mother uses her voice, the daughter is expected to listen and be submissive in this case, and if she does not do as told, whatever she does is wrong! = "do as i say or you will be wrong" now....here is where this gets intere4sting....the shades go down -> darkness (activates the pineal gland) and suddenly it is a painted room. contract this to the breakfast table in an otherwise empty room as a depiction of the mother in that the kitchen is the center of the home, source of nourishment and representative of mother-ness--the mother is not a "stocked fridge" of nourishment or a warm stove (think 'bun in the oven')--the mother is devoid of personal effects as the kitchen is and therefore entered into the codependent relatioonship with the daughter to satisfy her own need to control the tabula rasa--the "breakfast table in an otherwise empty room"-which is representative of the "young" girl.....the girl can't deny thewre is something wrong with the empty room of her mother contrasted with her painted room. it is easier to hold the image of what a mother should be---what she now has to teach herself because her mother could not do this for her, for whatever reasons. the girl is saying "don't call me daughter-not fit to be" because her mother is not treating her as a daughter should be treated, so the mother is not fit to be.......so, kids, go blame your parents! they ruined your life!Nicole - New York, Ny
this is a powerful song. especially when he shrieks, "don't CALL me daughter, not fit to," it becomes even more powerful when you find yourself relating to it.Heather - Los Angeles, Ca
Wow. I feel pretty stupid. I thought it was about a set of parents who had a daughter, but they divorced over the fact that there was too much violence in the house -Young girl...violins/ence-. I wasn't sure which kind of violece, spousal or child, or both. The mother has full custody (never speaks about a father...)-mother reads aloud-, they are living on probably a low budget-breakfast table in an otherwise empty room-, and the mom leaves the child alone probably to work for more money to get a better living.
And then i thought it switched to the father speaking... asking his daughter not to call him (over the phone) because he felt bad enough as it is for causing all the violence and now he regrets it and he would rather just use the picture he has of his child to remember than listen to her be sad that all that happened happened.
The child probably thought she was the cause for all the problems and just tried to make things better, especially for her mother, trying to make her proud...
Well, that was my take, but i can definitely see the dyslexia being the subject of the song. I never thought of that possibility.
Lauren - Boynton Beach, Fl
I think its about both a girl who is being abused and the effects of this is her dyslexia, the reason her mother is reading to her is because she cannot read herself due to her disability. Lol is there any real way to find out for sure??Rachael - Wellington, New Zealand
This song is about a girl who is sexually and verbally abused.It is so meaningful.If you just listen to the lyrics yiu would understand my theory.
Jenny,PanamaCity,Fl
Jenny - Panamacity, Fl
Wow... you ruined my image of the song! For me it's always been about a young girl who was (sexually) abused by her father. Her mother is unaware of it and just tries to take care of the family as best as possible. The dyslexic theory is interesting, but I don't buy it. The sex-change theory is also an interesting take on it. I always viewed it as a song about, like Matthew from NY said, a young woman reflecting on her childhood and the emotions that come with it and the ultimate resolution that will eventually take place.Sippe - Saskatoon, Canada
To be honest I always thought this song was about incest. "the shade goes down""she holds the hand that holds her down" "dont call me daughter" I really think this song is about sexual abuse.Heather - Hopkinton, Ma
this song is beautiful i played it for a week straight "breakfast table in an otherwise empty room" brilliantMadalyn - Greensburg, Pa
i think the song is about a girl, who is ashamed of her past...she wants to make her mother proud...but her past, the perception(the picture) her mother has about her, comes in the way...she feels that she is not fit/does not deserve to be called daughter...amazing song...Ujwal - Delhi, India
Vedder is on record as saying it is about a girl with a disability (http://www.korat.co.il/pearljam/Ibook/Vs/daughter.html) and, moreover, the great loss art suffered in times prior to our own when such conditions were not diagnosed or were misdiagnosed. Interesting to hear peoples' thoughts though, like misheard lyrics only better :)Dmm9999 - Philly, Pa
The "Daugher" spends a lot of time in her own head (shades go down)That she feels shame from the shame of the parents is obvious. But is there any significance to the painted room? Folk musician Ruth Ungar wrote a song called "Four Blue Walls" which is definitely about incest and retribution. I think "Daughter" predates "Four Blue Walls" but read the lyrics to both songs and you can't ignor the violin(ce)and painted walls.Lalah - Wasilla, Ak
I need to clarify something. Since the name of Vs. changed, but some got released say "Pearl Jam" is mine rare? It has the sheep eating the fence on the cover, and has Pearl jAm written in the top right-hand corner. On the CD itself, it says Pearl Jam. Is that how it should look, or is it one of those which got released before the name was changed?Elliot - St. Louis, Mo
David, the soundtrack to "I Am Sam" is made up exclusively of contemporary artists covering Beatles songs, as Sean Penn's character Sam (who is mentally disabled but whose daughter is not) is obsessed with The Beatles. The song Eddie Vedder performs is "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away".Tony - Sunshine Coast, Qld, Australia
There is a movie called "I am Sam" with Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer. It is about a little girl who has a retarded father and a mother that left. Then the little girl rejects the adoptive parents, specially the adoptive mother. The movie handles the subject of reading difficulties. I think Eddie sings a song in the movie but it is not "daughter". Hope this helps. Take care David, Pretoria.David - Pretoria, South Africa
In response to the person who claims the song is about teen pregnancy... you support your argument by pointing out a daughter tag. That's not extra lyrics, I beleive you're referring to a verse from Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" which was used as a daughter tag at a NY show in... 2003, I think.Nicole - Boston, Ma
hay people i think u all have got it rong this song is abt teen age pregnency....if u listen to the live on 2 legs vertion of this song the additional lyrics at the end make it very clear....as far as dyslexic theory goes i thik it flawed the line "other reads aloud, child tries to understand it" i thinks tlks about that the mother is tlkin to her after probably readin a book so it a sercastic remark as how parents read books to say the right thing insted of communicating directly with them the nxt line "tries to make her proud" means that she is a disappointment as she tries but does not succeedPrsh - Delhi, India
I certainly agree with Brian. A song does not have to be about something to do with rainbows
& puppy dogs to be beautiful. I think its about
a girl being molested. Oh and i was lovin the acoustic solo.
Jeremy - Laffeyette, La
I agree with Brian.Jeremy - Laffeyette, La
Spelling is evil. I've always had trouble with it. Damn spelling. But this song is beautifulAdeeb - Dhaka, Other
The misspellings in the lyrics might be enforcing the whole dyslexia theory. I think this song is about a mother who doesn't understand what it's like to have dyslexia, which her child has. Her father is dissappointed in the fact that she has it, and shows no affection toward his daughter. Therefore, this daughters grows up, knowing her mothering is caring, but has no empathy, she can't fully understand what her daughter is going through, and she can't consider her father an actual father, because he never cared for her, hence the line "Don't call me daughter", where the daughter is no longer allowing herself to realted to the neglecting father.Elliot - St. Louis, Mo
I don't get the dyslexia some of you are trying to say. my views of the song are this:the mother reads aloud for her daughter to understand whats going on
as her father sexually assults her.
Erica - Wanaque, Nj
I love this song, a great song about overcoming tradgedy.Drew - Kansas City, Mo
Being Dyslexic myself i can say that this song is definately about a dyslexic girl. Dyslexics look, act and talk and are normal people. The only thing about dyslexics is that we learn differently and thus in a normal school enviorment it is difficult to learn. Because dyslexics are normal in nature and behaviour parents often find it very difficult to come to terms with the fact that their dyslexic child is different. Because parents and others often ridicule dyslexics it is quite normal for them to feel inadequate which would explain "not fit to." i can definately identify with this (though my parents have been very supportive). dyslexics are often misunderstood. Don't treat them differently because they need special needs. some of the greatest people to live were dyslexic eg. Einstien, Thomas Edison etc. Having said that i really love this song and i really love Pearl Jam. This band doesn't care what the record company says they just go out and make whatever music they want to.Rahul - Mumbai, India
I doubt it's about autism because Vedder sings in the climax that the daughter triumps over the mother by being more successful despite supression. That points more to dyslexia.David - Dunedin, New Zealand
Most songs aren't about one single thing. I think this one is about a girl with dislexia and her mother abuses it her because she doesnt understand things. But, there are refrences to other things too.Izzy - Vernon Hills, Il
alatriel,thats what i thought as well, adn the tune is kinda catchy so it seems like kinda loking at a old video tape of a adopted daughter.Austin - Hudson, Oh
i never picked up on the dyslexia connection before, but now, it makes sense. i think where its says 'dont call me daughter, not fit to', i think he means that the girl feels ashamed that she doesnt understand what her mother is reading to her and doesnt know why she cant understand it.Reed - Hagerstown, In
an idiot savant is someone who is autistic, but is EXCEPTIONALLY gifted in one area or another (like rain man). but just because someone is autistic, that doesnt necessarily make them an idiot savant, and vice versa. (at least, thats what i think; im not 100% sure....)Reed - Hagerstown, In
Gandolf, isn't an autistic another word for and Idiot Cevant, I'm not sure but when someone says autistic I usually think of Rainman(Raymond) played by Dustin Hoffman in a movie of the same name. And by the way, there is a local tribute band named Five Against One that I know, I once saw their flyer in Blockbuster.The Jorge - Hell, Other
Daughter is an amazing song by Pearl Jam off an amazing albumRyan - Salt Lake City, Ut
I once read a book called "five against one" about pearl jam. It cited that this song was about eddie's sister , who was sent away to rehab ater getting caught smoking weed.Brent - O'fallon, Mo
I think that Matthew from NY is right on this one. I've always felt it is about a girl who has suffered abuse and is trying to escape.Dae - Paraparaumu, New Zealand
this is probably not gonna make a whole lotta sense and alot of you guys will think it is dumb but i think it's about a girl who was adopted and tries to make her new parents found(don't call me daughter/not fit to/the picture kept will remind me) means that she feels that she's not good enough and maybe the picture is of her real parents or something. just me theoryAlatriel - Lothlorien, Other
Okay here's my opinion, it's not about dyslexia, there are very few lines that support that, you see dyslexia is where you substitute letters and directions and stuff, where's that supported in the lyrics?! If you ask me it's about autism, its where your brain can't filter out even the simplest backround noise and your neorons are constantly being fired in your brain, and scientists believe that autism causes the movement of air molecules to cause the same amount of noise as a passing semi (they think) so this makes it impossible to remember anything or pay attention for that matter, so most of the time someone with autism will have picture cards with them to remind them important things like who their parents are ("The picture kept will remind me") you see what i'm gettin at? then the line "don't call me daughter" could mean that the autistic person is confused (probably minor autism) and doesn't realize that she is in fact, her daughter.Scott - Bismarck, Nd
I always thought this song was about a person who questioned their sexual identity. Maybe a partial hermaphrodite? Cause you see, he's saying 'Don't call me daughter' because he wants to be a man. And it is kind of kooky for a man to be singing these lyrics because it would be kind of difficult for a man to be a daughter, so obviously the sex change operation has already taken place, and person singing this song wants his parents to realize that he isn't their daughter anymore.. he is their son, and he went though a large array of operations so that he could be a son. He also got his vioce surgically changed. I think this song is a bit ambiguous as to whether it is really about a hermaphrodite or it is about someone who voluntarily got a sex change. Further evidence in this song that supports my claims is evident in the first stanza because breakfast tables and violins have lots to do with sexual confusion. This song has meant so much to me in my life, and has helped me through my gender confusion crisis. Thank you Eddie Vedder!!!!!!!!Sarah - Cedar Falls, Ia
To me, it sounds like a song about never being good enough...Jade - Sterling Heights, Mi
Brian, sexual abuse is not a beautiful topic. You can say it is a powerful song or a moving song, but it is not a beautiful song, nor was it meant to be such. At least that's my opinion.Matthew - New York, Ny
Not a beautiful song? Beacause something is brutally honest it can't be beautiful?Brian - Paoli, In
I'm sorry, but I have NEVER heard that explanation (dyslexia) of the song...ever. And it is not a beautiful song. Listen to the lyrics. "She holds the hand that holds her down." "Don't call me daughter, not fit to. The picture kept will remind me." "The shades go down." This is obviously sexual abuse. It's a woman who is now grown up remembering her childhood of abuse. It stunts her growth (she has trouble understanding the book her mother is reading--note, how can she be dyslexic if she is not the one reading the book??), and she is obviously traumatized by it. This is a sad, but powerful song about empowering yourself to break away from abusive parents. After all, she "will rise above."Matthew - New York, Ny
Also when Eddie wrote the lyrics to this song, he wrote Violns(ce). So he says both violins and violence, pretty nifty.Brian - Paoli, In
The mother is obviously neglectful, and probably doesn't fully understand what is wrong with her daughter. Her daughter tries to make her proud, but has such a hard time.

Such a beautiful song.
Brian - Paoli, In