What three supporting ideas help promote the theme of family in Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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First, before we tackle supporting ideas for the theme in the text, let's consider that the theme of "family" in Family Matters has two aspects to it, aspects that are developed through word play on two senses for the word "matters."

  • The first sense of the word "matters" is that something is of great importance, of great significance.
  • The second sense of the "matters" is of something that pertains to an issue, something that is relevant to an issue.

So, in the first sense, family matters because family is of great importance and significance to each person in a family: none can be neglected; devotion and loyalty is required from each to all.

In the second sense, there are questions or problems or practicalities that arise that must be resolved pertaining to the operation of the family, the happiness of the family, and the success of the family.

To illustrate the first sense from the novel, Nari's family is of great importance and significance--even though he made mistakes that destroyed much within the family--in the connections each has, the role each plays, and the decisions each makes. Mistry's story shows the importance and significance of the family to each member and shows the mistakes each makes in expressing and honoring that importance and significance. For instance, when Nari is out for a walk and the thudding comes at Coomy's door, her first thought is that it is her worst nightmare come true. She is genuinely shaken and frightened for what may have befallen Nari. Because this side of Coomy's knowledge of her family's important and significance is shown by Mistry, we know that, despite her mistakes, her grumbling and her personality flaws, she is genuine in her concern and fears for Nari's safety.

To illustrate the second sense from the novel, when the family gathers for Nari's birthday party and Roxana presents him with a lovely walking stick (walking cane), the practical questions arise of the safety of using the cane while walking outside, the wisdom of having Jal or Coomy accompany Nari on his walks, and the desirability of eliminating his walks altogether. This illustrates problems, practicalities and questions that arise pertaining the operation and happy functioning of the family.

Considering this double meaning of "family matters," we can say that the theme of family pertains to how Nari's family is important and significant to each member and to how the problems, questions, practicalities of family operation and function need to be addressed and resolved.

Revering Missing Family Members

Coomy and Jal still revere their real father. This is illustrated by the importance of the pens that they keep and protect. This idea of reverence for absent members supports the theme of family by demonstrating that family ties are threads that are not easily broken (maybe are not possible of being broken) and that family memories remain alive and relevant in continuing everyday life. The pens also support the theme of family by pointing out that present day events are important and relevant to future events; specifically, that their father's knowledge that they had been properly initiated into the family's religious tradition of Zorastrianism was important enough to his peace of mind about their futures that the religious leader, the dustoorji, was willing to bend some rules.

[These were pens] presented to [Coomy and Jal] on their navjote by their father, almost forty years ago. The ceremony had been arranged hurriedly on the advice of the family dustoorji, when it seemed Palonji did not have much longer to live. The children had yet to commit to memory all the requisite prayers, but the dustoorji said he would overlook that deficiency; better for the father to witness the navjote, even if the initiates were a few verses short, so he could die secure in the knowledge that his progeny had been properly welcomed into the Zoroastrian fold.

Hostile Refusal to Forgive Family Interloper

An interloper is someone who intrudes or invades for selfish reasons into relationships where they do not belong.

Coomy, unhappy in her disappointments in life, lays a  lot of blame on a lot of people for a lot of things. One person she lays blame on (rightly so, in this case) and cannot forgive is the interloper Lucy who, having walked away from Nari once, returned and stalked him until he gave in and brought ruin on his marriage to Coomy's and Jal's mother.

This idea of hostile refusal to forgive an interloper supports the theme of family by illustrating that, despite anger and blame, the family is felt to be--even by hostile, complaining Coomy--an unbreakable, inviolate (not to be violated) unit that comprises one entity designed of many cooperating entities.

[Coomy said, then broke off saying] Six lives he, a father in name only, had drenched with unhappiness, she continued, and she would never forgive that, especially his disgraceful behaviour with his mistress after marriage. What character of woman--not woman, witch--would do such things? And if she wanted to die in that manner, then why hadn't she done them all a favour and---

Unity Despite Disagreement

One of the earliest surprises in the novel is that Coomy blames Roxana for moving away instead of staying at home with the rest of them. Nari interrupts and says it was his decision that Roxana and her husband should set up life for themselves in their own apartment. Coomy had not before Roxana's removal from the ancestral home, with its ancient wall paint and upholstery, thought of a difference between natural children and half-children, whole-brother and half-sister. She had thought of family unity. Her perception was that unity had been broken because it had been false unity.

This idea of unity despite disagreement supports the theme of family by showing that the matters family's must address (questions, problems, practicalities) may lead to disagreements but they must never be allowed to reduce how much family matters (how important and significant it is). It is ironic that this revelation should be presented through Coomy who is the one who complains and connives the most to punish and to be rid of family matters: the one who fights most because family matters is the one to fight hardest to allow family matters to break the family apart.

"To think we could all have lived happily together, right here, one family. But you insisted on leaving us. ... The walking stick is a sign of how inconsiderate you've become. Never were you like this, not till you got married and left. Now you have no concern for how we live or die. And that hurts me!"

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