What does silence represent in Kazuo Ishiguro's "A Family Supper"?

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Kazuo Ishiguro writes about the difficulty in communication between the traditional Japanese culture and the new generation.  This generational and cultural gap provides the center piece for “A Family Supper.”  A father and his children care for each other but struggle to express their feelings.

The unnamed protagonist

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protagonist serves as the first person narrator.  The speaker has been living in California.  When he learned of his mother’s death, he did not return to Japan for her funeral.  He   returns to Tokyo at his father’s request. 

Silence is a motif of the story.  The poor communication between the son and father stems from the son’s childhood and the dominance of the father.  Even in the present, the narrator describes his father as “a formidable looking man.”  When they sit down together, the speaker recalls a time when his father slapped him several times for talking too much.

The narrator begins the story by describing how his mother died.  Apparently after eating fish that was not prepared correctly, she is poisoned and dies a painful death. The father tells the narrator that he believes that the mother committed suicide. The mention of the fish is a foreshadowing of the supper that makes the reader believes that the father could poison his family as well as himself.

The narrator sees images of his mother that disturb him.  He sees her ghostly figure in the garden. Later at supper, he spots a picture of her which shows that she had aged into an old woman. It becomes clear that the son’s guilt over his inattentiveness toward his mother sits heavy on his heart:

"I hadn't meant to tell you this, but perhaps it's best I do. It's my belief that your mother's death was no accident. She had many worries.  And some disappointments."

"Surely," I said eventually, "my mother didn't expect me 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."

The father’s attitude toward the daughter is very different.  As the only character who is given a name, the daughter is about to graduate from college and wants to live in America.  The father is unaware of this wish.  His treatment of her makes it obvious that young Japanese women were expected to be subservient to the men, especially the older generation.

At the family supper, the father prepares a meal with fish as the main course. The author makes sure that the reader has an inkling that the father is poisoning the family.  This is not true. Most of the meal is eaten in silence.  Everyone is afraid to speak with the fear that the friendly interaction will be broken.

The communication between all of the family is strained.  The father is lonely and old.  He would like to have his children with him.  He questions the speaker who will not commit to coming to stay with his father. However, it is clear that the father wants to build a better relationship with his son.  

As much as the father is able to, he tries to let the son know that he needs and loves him.  The son refuses to answer his questions in a positive way.  Nothing is resolved and at the end of the story the father and son sit in silence awaiting the daughter to bring them tea.

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