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“A Conversation with My Father” by Grace Paley brings to light a generation gap between the past and the present.The story actually intertwines two stories at the same time: the story of the dying father and his writer daughter and their conflicting differences in life experiences. Additionally, there is the creation of a simple story that the father asks his daughter to write in the same vein as his favorite writers of the past.
This is a story of two strong characters. The father is an eighty-six year old man with a heart condition. The author's father’s body has failed him, but his mind is still keen. A physician and an artist, he is still very particular with details and requires that in his daughter as well. He believes that there are a limited few who are able to carefully write the true story, and there are many who just play at writing when they should be doing something else.
His reality is quite different from his young writer daughter, who as the narrator tries to please her elderly father. Obviously, she loves her father because she tries so hard to satisfy him. The daughter has a completely different view on life. She is comfortable with herself and rejects her father’s tendency to cling to the familiar and reject change. To please her father, she writes two stories: the first too simple, and the second with too many unanswered questions.
The father knows that that he is dying and sees life as a tragedy. He is interested in how life works and the details that take a person through life to its end. His story is abhorrent to the daughter’s view of writing because she feels that every character has an open ended future. The father thinks in terms of experience, hard work, and day-to-day ordinary living. The daughter, in comparison, writes about opportunities and the chance of something good coming just around the corner.
In his disappointment with her story, he states:
‘Tragedy! You too. When will you look it in the face? A person must have character, She does not.’
‘No, Pa,’ I said. ‘That's it. She's got a job, Forget it. She's in that storefront working.’
‘How long will it be?’ he asked. ‘Tragedy! You too. When will you look it in the face?’
The father is asking her to accept his death as a tragedy for both of them. She is unwilling to accept that there is nothing that can change or that his death is inevitable. He wants the ending of the story to be more true to life with the woman’s life in the story to end tragically.
The author’s story reveals a satirical style that displeases her father. He wants a story that has a clear beginning, middle, and end. The daughter tries to write that story, yet she cannot entirely comply because she sees possibilities that open up the characters’ lives. The story-within-a story leaves the mother, who is a drug addict, able to avoid her death and through change live a satisfying life.
The author is willing to take on the criticism of her father in order to try to please him. This is the crux of their relationship: both loving each other, but coming from different times and perspectives. Ultimately, the father wants his daughter to address his dying and to accept that his life is tragically ending.
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