Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“A Family Supper” is told alternately from the narrative perspective of a young man joining his father and sister for dinner at their father’s home and in the form of a dialogue among the members of the family. The young man has just returned to Tokyo from California, where he has been living for the past several years. His father, a World War II veteran and widower, has been forced to retire because the firm in which he was employed as an executive collapsed. The dinner is being held to reunite the family for the first time since the mother’s death, and the father has prepared a special dish for the occasion. In the first paragraph of the story, the narrator mentions that traditional Japanese dishes made from fugu (puffer fish or blowfish) have a special significance for him because his mother died in somewhat ambiguous circumstances after eating the fish. The preparation of the fish involves a great deal of skill because some of its glands contain a deadly poison and must be carefully removed.
While the son was living in the United States, he was not in close contact with the other members of his family. At the dinner, he learns that after the firm failed, his father’s partner for seventeen years, Watanabe, killed himself as a matter of “principle and honor.” His mother had always refused to eat fugu but accepted an invitation from an old schoolfriend “whom she was anxious not to offend.” His father expresses the hope that the narrator will remain in Japan, but the son tells him that he...
(The entire section is 628 words.)
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"A Family Supper" concerns the difficulty of different generations communicating in one Japanese family. After several years of living in California, the son, who remains nameless, returns to Japan two years after his mother’s death, about which he knew little. She died by eating—out of politeness to a friend—the poisonous fish called “fugu.” The implication is that allegiance to Japanese tradition had something to do with her death, and this grows in thematic significance as we learn that the young man’s father is “in retirement” because his longtime business partner recently committed suicide, taking his family with him. Indeed, death hovers throughout the story, especially as the son and his sister, who visits for dinner, reminisce over a childhood memory of a ghost in the backyard well. As the family haltingly talks over dinner, slowly eating a fish the father has prepared, no one speaks of the fugu that killed the mother, although father and son agree that the business partner made a mistake in his suicide and the murder of his family. The father, meanwhile, encourages the son to stay in Japan, but the son remains noncommittal about his plans. Nothing is resolved at the end of the story, when, as the narrator says, “We fell silent once more.”
The story is told from the first-person point of view of the son, but because he reflects on little, the information could as easily be revealed through a very objective third-person narrator. We learn a few facts; we hear dialogue; but the narrator does not tell us his feelings, indicate his reaction to the events of the story, or offer much background information. Indeed, the narrator’s lack of communication—with the other characters as well as with himself and his audience—shapes an important theme of the story: the clash in values between the generation (represented by the father and mother) that governed Japan immediately after Word War II and the succeeding generation (represented by the son and his sister).
The story opens with the narrator explaining that fugu, a fish caught off the shores of Japan and popular in the years after the war, can cause a painful and immediate death because it contains a poison in its sexual glands. It must, therefore, be carefully prepared to be eaten, but one wonders why anyone would dare do so if it is so dangerous. Regardless, the narrator’s mother died from eating this fish, prepared by a friend, two years before the son returns on a visit to Japan after living in California for a number of years. He had not known about this, because while he was abroad, his “relationship with [his] parents had become rather strained.”
Conversation between father and son is difficult, but eventually the father tells his son that his business partner, Watanabe, killed himself when the business collapsed, for “he did not wish to live with the disgrace.” The son’s response, “I see,” is typical of the lack of substantial communication in this family. The father admires his friend’s action, calling him “a fine man. A man of principle.” Now in retirement, he himself is uncertain of his plans for the future, but he is beginning to think there is more to life than work and hopes his son has come back to Japan to stay. “I for one am prepared to forget the past,” he tells his...
(The entire section is 835 words.)