•Transitions –Changing living arrangements –Declining health & other losses –Personal growth throughout the life course –Adaptation •Friendships –Role offriendships in family...

•Transitions –Changing living arrangements –Declining health & other losses –Personal growth throughout the life course –Adaptation

•Friendships –Role offriendships in family life –Social boundaries between family and friends –Ambivalence

•Long term marriage –Solidarity –Strain (Ambivalence)

•Intergenerational relationships (sources of Ambivalence) –Grandparent-grandchild relationships –Older adult – adult child relationships

•Family care and family caregiving –Ways the two families provide care vs. caregiving

•Continuity –Family traditions, world views –Commitments & obligations

•Cumulative advantage & Cumulative disadvantage –Upper class “Summer People” (Christina) vs. working class villagers (Ellen)

This is an example of a key issue in other book. What are the key same key issues in old friends book?

Asked on by weja84

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Well, your question is a bit cryptic, but I think I understand.  You have given a list of issues, or more appropriately, of "themes" of different novels, and you would like to know which of these themes apply to Old Friends.  Is that correct?  If I have misunderstood your question, please feel free to repost.

Therefore, as I understand it, the answer to your question is that Old Friends can best be explored with the themes of what you call "intergenerational relationships" and "friendships."  Yes, certainly we could make a tenuous case with ANY of the themes you mentioned; however, it is the ones above that comprise most of the book.

I would actually put your term "intergenerational relationships" in a different way and say that the theme would be better stated as "the decline of extended family in society."  Extended family IS intergenerational relationships.  You see, it wasn't long ago that kids and parents and grandparents and great grandparents lived together in the same house.  The younger ones took care of the older ones until they passed on.  However, there has been a movement away from extended family to the "nuclear family" which is simply parents and children.  This leaves grandparents and great grandparents "out in the cold" ... or perhaps I should say, in places like Linda Manor, a residential retirement community.  Kidder, himself, puts it this way:

The central problem of life at Linda Manor is, after all, only the universal problem of separateness: the original punishment, the ultimate vulnerability, the enemy of meaning.

Let's look at some specifics from Old Friends that can show this decline of the extended family. 

Lou Freed is a much older man (in his nineties), but never drank or smoked or squandered his life in any way.  In fact, Jennie, his late wife, was the only woman he ever dated.  When Lou became too frail, both Lou and Jennie moved into Linda Manor, but Jennie died in 1990 after having been married for almost seventy years!  Having no children to take care of either Lou or Jennie, they were forced into Linda Manor due to their failing health conditions.

It is similar with Joe Torchio or, at least, KIND OF similar.  Joe did have children, but his son died and his daughter had so many learning differences that she wouldn't be of help now.  Joe also aged his body by heavy drinking and through divorce.  Then, in his mid-fifties, Joe had a stroke.  This landed him in Linda Manor with no one to care for him.

A different situation is that of Earl who DOES still have a wife; however, his wife is too worried about the huge responsiblity of caring for a dying Earl at home.  Earl, of course, is given only a few weeks to live.  Without his wife to care for him at home, Earl is destined for Linda Manor.

In my opinion, though, the most optimistic of the themes dealt with in Old Friends is the chronicle of such a friendship of two men who have similar thoughts and interests and learn to love each other over their stay at Linda Manor.  The two don't start out as friends, of course, but as roommates. They get to know the specifics of each other's lives through eavesdropping.  Phone calls, conversations with visitors, verbalized memories... all of these are fair game. 

Eventually, Joe and Lou learn that they can't stand people who complain and have great respect for those who bear suffering with grace.  They also value humor... such as calling the bathroom "the library."  But above even humor, the two value memory:

Lou’s memories seemed like an immortal part of him,” he writes. “They existed right now forever. Lou’s memories contained such a density of life that in their presence death seemed impossible.” Kidder suggests that by remembering Jennie and retelling over and over their years together, Lou is able to keep her alive.

In this way, then this theme of friendship overlaps with the theme you mention of "continuity."  The way residents of Linda Manor keep their continuity is through their memory and through sharing those memories with others.  Thus, as you can see, many of the themes you mention overlap; however, the two most important are the decline of the extended family (i.e. "intergenerational relationships") and friendship.

Sources:

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