Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“A Family Supper” deals with the difficulties that a generation, accustomed to power and confident that an established culture will continue indefinitely, faces when its familiar world is swept away. Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan and came to the British Isles at age five when his father, an oceanographer, was invited to participate in a British government research project. Although England was a primal part of the victorious Allied effort in World War II, while Japan experienced defeat, both countries were utterly changed by the conflict. England suffered a stunning decline in power in the aftermath of its empire, and Japan was transformed from a semi-medieval regional power into a modern economic colossus.

“A Family Supper” examines the ways in which both the generation that governed Japan before the war and the next one, which grew up in an entirely different social and political situation, attempt to deal with drastic changes in a nation fully involved in previously scorned foreign patterns of behavior. The father represents the older generation, bitter in the face of defeat and loss. The collapse of his firm is a symbol for the failure of the older Japanese approach to the world. His partner Watanabe’s decision to commit suicide is an appropriate response in terms of traditional Japanese culture but somewhat questionable in postwar Japan. His choice to take his family with him is completely outrageous by any but the most primitive codes...

(The entire section is 596 words.)


The conflict between generations in a changing Japan develops the primary theme of the novel, which suggests that the ways of the past are giving way to new values that have not fully developed in the younger generation. The story represents ancient Japan through the setting of Kamakura, a site of Shogun power, as well as the more recent past through references to the World War II generation, which still places value on suicide as an expression of honor in the face of defeat. The father is beginning to understand that these values have less meaning for him than they once did, but he has not yet fully claimed a new identity situated in a different set of values—though he is moving in that direction. For example, the son says his father is “particularly proud of the pure samurai blood that ran in the family,” and the father still believes that Watanabe was “a fine man. A man of principle,” but he is also beginning to understand that his partner’s devotion to his work “must have weakened his judgment” because there is more to life than work. For that reason, he seeks a reconciliation with his son, hoping he will come back home to stay, even though they still clearly have difficulty talking to each other.

As for the younger generation, represented by the son and Kikuko, they have not discovered coherent identities to replace those grounded in the values of their parents’ generation. The son returns home because he has nothing left in California after his relationship with Vicki collapsed, and Kikuko is considering hitchhiking in California with her boyfriend even though she is not sure she wants to spend so much time with him. Her giggles, grins, and smoking also indicate an insecurity with who she is and what she wants in life. If the son is to reconcile with the father, he, too, has a good deal of soul-searching in front of him, and perhaps more. His father has made certain strides: he now cooks for himself, has taken up a hobby...

(The entire section is 541 words.)