Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The aura of silence and shadows that permeates “A Family Supper” is at the crux of Ishiguro’s method for evoking and maintaining a mood of uncertainty throughout the story. Amid the narrative flow, small details are crucial in determining the thought and emotion behind each character’s utterances. Although the narrator’s mother and younger sister play an important part in revealing the central conflict between traditional ways of being and the necessity for change and adaptation brought about by a radical alteration in circumstances, the two men are the primary players in the tableau. Similarly, the references to the ghostly presence in the garden are more of a suggestion of the existence of mysterious, uncontrollable forces rather than a crucial plot element. Subtle nuances of speech and the implications of motive in a careful control of tone are the ways in which Ishiguro explores psychological foundations.

As the narration progresses, the shift toward dialogue from the initial alternation of conversation and exposition moves the focus from the son to his father, whose admission that there “are other things besides work” indicates that the son’s expectations about rigid attitudes are not entirely accurate. Paradoxically, the father’s somewhat tentative and distant responses are replaced by a direct declaration that Watanabe’s decision was a mistake, echoing Kikuko’s description of the murder and ritual suicide as “sick.” Nevertheless, the father’s explanation that he would have preferred service in the air force because a plane, when struck, was “always the ultimate final weapon” seems to support Watanabe’s determination to retain his honor. However, the father’s hopes for a future with his family indicate a different attitude. This method of incremental adjustment and advance in comprehension gives “A Family Supper” a resonance that reverberates considerably beyond the story’s apparent conclusion.

A Family Supper Setting

The dominant setting is present-day Tokyo, Japan, in the Kamakura district, which was the seat of the Shogunate in the twelfth century. This historical detail might be important in that it contributes to the sense of Japanese tradition that the narrator’s parents represent and shapes the conflict of the story. It also connects to the narrator’s observation that his father is “proud of the pure samurai blood that ran in the family.”

The more immediate past of the story, however, is World War II, which the narrator immediately mentions in the context of the poisonous fish that killed his mother. Fugu, which has poisonous sex glands, was “extremely popular in Japan after the was all the rage to perform the hazardous gutting operation in one’s own kitchen, then to invite neighbours and friends round for the feast.” The father still locates his identity within those traditions, even while they are crumbling and he is struggling to live in the present. We see this in another detail of setting: the model battleship he has built and displays on “a low table in the corner” of the one room still with furniture, flowers, and pictures. Significantly, the ship is made of plastic, something artificial, but the father’s memories of his time on such a ship during the war are very real. While holding it, he says to his son, “I don’t suppose you believe in war,” indicating the gulf in beliefs separating father from son. Yet he has built this ship out of pleasure, not obligation, now that he has time on his hands.

The father’s house offers several other details that contribute to a sense of place. For example, father and son discuss the suicide of Watanabe, the father’s business partner, in the tearoom that looks over a garden, and from where the son sits he can “make out the ancient well which as a child [he] had believed was haunted.” Later he and his sister Kikuko, who lives in Osaka, put on straw sandals,...

(The entire section is 696 words.)

A Family Supper Bibliography

Mason, Gregory. 1989. “An Interview With Kazuo Ishiguro.” Contemporary Literature 30 (3): 335-47. Mason finds that Ishiguro’s “meticulous interest in the craft of fiction and lucid grasp of his own aims and methods make this conversation an unusually valuable introduction and companion to the author’s works.”

Shaffer, Brian W. 1998. Understanding Kazuo Ishiguro. Contemporary British Literature Series. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. Shaffer’s study reveals Ishiguro’s novels to be intricately crafted, psychologically absorbing, hauntingly evocative works that display the author’s grounding not only in the literature of Japan but also in the great twentieth-century British masters.

Wong, Cynthia F. 2003. Kazuo Ishiguro. 2nd ed. Writers and Their Work Series. Tavistock, UK: Northcote House. Wong has also published several interviews with Ishiguro. This book integrates these with a close reading of all of his novels to date.