Family Ties Essays and Criticism
by Clarice Lispector

Start Your Free Trial

Download Family Ties Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The Dramatic Unity in the Vague Elements in Family Ties that Cohere into a Formal Tragedy

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

The tight form of the tragedy, in which a character moves relentlessly towards catastrophe, seems to lie in direct opposition to the amorphous flow of a phenomenological or existential work such as "Family Ties.'' However, because Lispector's fluid narrative concerns the epiphanies of life, what the character does in response to his or her epiphanies constitutes a decision that is not unlike those made by the more traditional tragic hero, who, because of some inherent tragic flaw, can make no other decision than to fulfill his or her tragic destiny. In a conventional tragedy, the catastrophe results in death or madness, but in Lispector's hands, the tragedy is the perpetuation of existential nausea, from which the character fails to break free.

"Family Ties'' portrays fluidly changing states of consciousness. The story has been called existential for its portrayal of anguish in an absurd and uncaring world, metaphysical for its philosophical feel, and phenomenological for its style of rendering states of consciousness. Giovanni Pontiero, who translated ‘‘Lacos de familia" ("Family Ties’’) into English, notes in an essay titled "The Drama of Existence in 'Lacos de Familia,’’' that Lispector has forged "a highly unusual style among contemporary writers in Brazil. It is a style that is particularly effective when she creates the image and atmosphere of the world bordering on the realm of phenomenology. Like her characters, the reader is invited to examine experience from inside. Thus her prose style comes close to achieving that 'fertility and fluency' of expression discussed by Virginia Woolf in Writer's Diary (1953). Like the English novelist, Clarice Lispector also appears to be learning her craft under the most fierce conditions, now overcome by the brutality and wildness of the world, now overcome by the poetry of life.’’

Lispector achieves a phenomenological mood through a fragmented style with sudden shifts in narrative point of view, from outside of the character's mind to inside it, and back. The character's actual thoughts are interposed with the author's narration from that character's perspective. For example,

Preoccupied, he watched his wife leading the child away and he feared that at this moment, they were both beyond his reach, she might transmit to their son.. .but what? "Catherine," he thought, ‘‘Catherine, this child is still innocent!’’ At what moment was it that a mother, clasping her child, gave him this prison of love that would descend forever upon the future man.

In the passage above, the first sentence is presented from the point of view of an omniscient narrator. Then in the next, Tony's thoughts are given in direct discourse. The third sentence is in indirect interior monologue, where the author narrates Tony's ideas. Moving freely among these presentations results in the sensation of perceiving the story through Tony's consciousness, as he sees, and reacts to what he sees.

Phenomenology is about perception and seeing objects, and the phenomenological approach of "Family Ties’’ is further emphasized by a motif of seeing that pervades the story. One instance is Catherine watching her mother's hat fall over her eyes, then seeing her mother's watchful but unseeing face from the train window. Seeing occurs literally and in metaphor . The story is narrated almost entirely through the seeing eyes of its characters, first from Catherine's view of her mother, and then from her husband's watchful view of Catherine taking their son for a walk. Throughout the story, the characters' gaze takes in the action, which is then reported from their interior perception of it. There is little effort to portray the characters as characters, with personalities, but rather as interior minds perceiving the world. Pontiero notices that Lispector's ‘‘characters.. .cannot be described as 'types''' but rather "as images of different states of mind.’’ Metaphorically, Tony "sees" that Catherine intends to create a...

(The entire section is 5,233 words.)