In "The Beach Umbrella," how are Elijah's character traits shaped or affected by his relationship with his family?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Elijah's character traits are set and he is happy and content with himself and his accomplishments. He likes his job, the responsibility that it gives him, and the leisure time that he has, especially when the sun invites him to the beach. He does feel lonely though because he goes alone to the beach and without a beach umbrella. His wife doesn't join him on the Saturday in the narrative because she is upset that he doesn't earn enough money for the growing needs of the family, such as school clothes for their growing adolescents. His lack of a beach umbrella is his one evidence of tacit agreement to the accusation that he doesn't earn enough money.

After Elijah breaks down so as to absolve his loneliness and isolation by borrowing his son's earnings in order to buy a beach umbrella, Elijah experiences great conflict and makes a radical decision to give up his pleasures and pursuits by quitting his present job and taking a difficult, low-prestige but high-paying job at the steel mill. The influence of his family forces a breakdown and a change in Elijah's character. He suddenly perceives his behavior in relationship to external opinions and needs instead of from purely internal promptings.

The family influence and the breakdown it causes lead him to action that is antithetical to his established character. He acts out of shock and guilt and there is no indication that his change will be a welcome one or that he is acting out of anything but overwhelming guilt. Therefore, the reader may expect he will be a bitter and unhappy man the rest of his days--unless his family can influence him once again to rejoice in their well-being.

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The Beach Umbrella

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