Give a character analysis for "A Family Supper" by Kazuo Ishiguro.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“A Family Supper” by Kazuo Ishiguro describes a Japanese family coming together after the death of the mother.  She died from eating a poisonous fish.  The father has waited on the return of his children to their Tokyo home: his son from American and his daughter from college in Osaka.  The narration of the story is first person with the son as the narrator.

While they wait for the arrival of the daughter, the son and the father talk about the mother’s death, the collapse of the father’s firm, and the son’s plans for the future. The father would like for his children to return home to be with him. 

Character analysis

The Father

The father ia not given a name because he is  an archetypal Japanese father figure.  Ishiguro uses this father figure to embrace the timeless issues of children growing up, moving away, and leaving their parents to grow old. These are the things that the father wants to discuss with his children.  He hopes that there will be an understanding of what should be expected of them.  

The father feels the pain of abandonment in his old age He tries to hint at his joyless life since the death of his wife.  His firm has collapsed.  He is lost in the big, empty house that once held his family. 

The Daughter

The daughter Kikuko is younger than the son.  She is nervous when she arrives home.  Her father questions her about her studies at the university. Her answers are brief which frustrates the father.

While the father fixes the meal, the siblings walk in the garden.  The girls tells her brother that she has a boyfriend. The boy wants her to go with him to America.

The daughter is talkative and loves to share with her brother.  The daughter also tells the brother that her father’s partner in the firm had committed suicide and killed all of the rest of the family as well.

 It is obvious that the father depends on the daughter to help him more than the son.  The daughter hesitates when the father asks her to do something indicating a resentment which may come from her immaturity or some other bad feeling between the two.

The Son and Narrator

The son has lived in California with a girl for a while.  The affair has ended, and the son seems at odds as to what he wants to do. The son is also not given a name.  The father wants his son to stay with him.  The son is unable to commit to this circumstance yet, and the father is afraid to push the son.  The request hangs over them. 

The son has accepted the death of his mother as an accident; however, the father essentially tells him that his mother has committed suicide.  During the story, the son is haunted by a vision and a picture of his mother.  He regrets not having returned to see his parents sooner and feels some guilt toward the mother’s death.

‘Surely,’ I said eventually, ‘my mother didn’t expect ne to live here forever.’

‘Obviously you don’t see.  You don’t see how it is for some parents. Not only must they lose their children, they must lose them to things they don’t understand.’

From this insight, the father once more refers to the three ways that many old people die: accident, suicide, or neglect.  Questions about the family going or staying are unresolved.

At the end of the story, the discussion makes the reader feel that it is possible that the father is capable of poisoning his family as they eat fish prepared by the father.