Study Guide

Family Ties

by Clarice Lispector

Family Ties Summary

Introduction

"Family Ties" is the title story of Clarice Lispector' s Lacos de Familia (Family Ties). A play on the word "ties" suggests the tension of the story, between the ties that connect and the ties that bind one to family members. Like many of the other stories in the collection, "Family Ties" concerns men and women who, when faced with a moment of epiphany in their relations with others, tragically choose not to communicate openly, but to perpetuate a sense of alienation within family bonds. The story concerns a woman, Catherine, who is relieved when her mother departs after a visit, because their relationship is strained and artificial. They cannot reach each other emotionally and fear doing so. They ignore the deepest part of their feelings for each other, since both hate and love reside there. Almost in retaliation for her own imprisonment, Catherine begins the process of re-creating the same bonds with her young son at the end of the story. She has learned the nature of her anguish from a moment of epiphany, yet rather than right this wrong, she commits it to her son's legacy. The phenomenological narrative style of the story was a landmark in Brazilian literature, opening the door to experimentation with form and language. Clarice Lispector's fiction spans the modern and postmodern eras, representing the human mind in an eloquent and fluid style and probing metaphysical questions of being, identity, and language. This is a story that does not preach, but that exposes essential and tragic human qualities in a quiet, haunting way.

Family Ties Summary

The story opens with a mother and daughter in a taxi on the way to the train station for the mother's departure, after a visit to her married daughter's family. The daughter, Catherine, is relieved that the tensions of the visit will soon end. She had nearly laughed aloud at her husband's discomfort when her mother made a general and insincere-sounding apology for her comments, which apparently mostly centered on the couple's ‘‘thin and highly strung’’ son. Tony, suffering from a cold, had hidden behind a cough rather than respond meaningfully to his mother-in-law. In the taxi ride, both women have the sense of something left unsaid, and they ask each other what they may have forgotten, but keep the conversation on the relatively safe topic of the child. Their composure is momentarily shaken when the taxi driver slams on the brakes and the two women briefly collide. They rearrange the suitcases and handbags quickly, to avoid the sense of"physical intimacy long since forgotten.’’ Catherine had had a closer relationship with her father, and she is anxious to be away from her mother. Only when the train lurches away do they call out to each other, "Mother" and "Catherine," and when the daughter sees her mother's tremulous hand adjusting the hat she had bought at Catherine's milliner's shop, she has a sudden urge to ask her if she had had a happy marriage with her father.

Having never made the connections both women longed for and feared, they are parted, and Catherine walks with her usual brisk step, now that she no longer has to keep pace with her aging mother. She feels beautiful and fixes her pleasure on "the things of the world.’’ Catherine heads straight for her own son, after answering yes to her husband' s terse query,"Has she...

(The entire section is 719 words.)