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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“A Family Supper” is told alternately from the narrative perspective of a young man joining his father and sister for dinner at their father’s home and in the form of a dialogue among the members of the family. The young man has just returned to Tokyo from California, where he has been living for the past several years. His father, a World War II veteran and widower, has been forced to retire because the firm in which he was employed as an executive collapsed. The dinner is being held to reunite the family for the first time since the mother’s death, and the father has prepared a special dish for the occasion. In the first paragraph of the story, the narrator mentions that traditional Japanese dishes made from fugu (puffer fish or blowfish) have a special significance for him because his mother died in somewhat ambiguous circumstances after eating the fish. The preparation of the fish involves a great deal of skill because some of its glands contain a deadly poison and must be carefully removed.

While the son was living in the United States, he was not in close contact with the other members of his family. At the dinner, he learns that after the firm failed, his father’s partner for seventeen years, Watanabe, killed himself as a matter of “principle and honor.” His mother had always refused to eat fugu but accepted an invitation from an old schoolfriend “whom she was anxious not to offend.” His father expresses the hope that the narrator will remain in Japan, but the son tells him that he is not sure about plans for the future. A degree of tension fills the conversation, “punctuated by long pauses,” but the father underscores his desire to bring the family closer together.

Kikuko, the narrator’s sister, arrives from Osaka University where she is a student, and the strained formality of the conversation changes when their father leaves the room to attend to supper. She and the narrator discuss the ways in which they disappointed their parents by their adherence to the ways of a new generation and by their casual disregard for the patterns of the past that their parents cherished. When they return to the house from the garden, Kikuko somewhat reluctantly accepts her father’s invitation to help with the meal, and father and son wander through the house, which the son notices seems dimly lit and “startlingly empty.” One room, however, is filled with books and papers, as well as an intricate model of a battleship. In addition to developing his culinary skills, the older man has been carefully assembling the plastic warship that he tells his son is like the craft he served on during the war.

The family then begins the meal in silence, consuming various courses until one large pot remains unopened. Intrigued by its appealing and unusual taste, the son asks what they are eating. “Just fish,” his father replies. Then the son wonders what his father thinks of Watanabe’s decision to take “his whole family with him.” The older man explains that the collapse of the firm had weakened his partner’s judgment. His son asks if Watanabe’s action was a mistake, to which his father replies, “of course.”

The two men sit in silence for a while, the room becoming dark as the daylight ends. Their conversation is more relaxed now, as the father asks whether his son will remain in Japan, inviting him to stay in the family home if he wishes. Neither man seems particularly certain about their future, but they reassure each other that when Kikuko completes her studies, “things will improve.” This ambiguous pronouncement is emblematic of the easing of tension that has occurred.

Summary

"A Family Supper" concerns the difficulty of different generations communicating in one Japanese family. After several years of living in California, the son, who remains nameless, returns to Japan two years after his mother’s death, about which he knew little. She died by eating—out of politeness to a friend—the poisonous fish called...

(The entire section is 1,677 words.)