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

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1897

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...

(The entire section contains 5233 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Family Ties study guide. You'll get access to all of the Family Ties content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Critical Essays
  • Analysis
  • Teaching Guide
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

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 bond with their son. In phenomenology, seeing and perceiving are the main mental processes, the physical seeing leading to metaphoric seeing as understanding.

The flow of consciousness is not totally amorphous, despite Lispector's assertion that her writing is mysterious because she lets it flow directly from her mind and does no editing. She claims to be "incapable of transposing feeling in any clear way without falsifying it—to falsify thought would be to rob writing of its only satisfaction. So I often find myself assuming an air of mystery—a phenomenon that I find extremely irksome in others.’’ Whether or not she edited her writing, it succeeds in evoking shifts in consciousness quite realistically, yet her craft is most apparent in the way in which the amorphous flow of thought proceeds in a forward, plotted movement. Tragedy requires plot to unfold the causal sequence that ultimately leads to death or madness. Without a plot, catastrophic events may be sad, but not tragic. Tragedy requires a chain of events, with a fatal decision made by the protagonist. The plot line of ‘‘Family Ties’’ is tight, but it occurs internally, in the form of epiphany.

As Lispector's characters perceive and react to the world, they continually generate and modify a self that consists of consciousness. Through acts of perception, the characters confront the world and make decisions that mold their internal character, thus affecting what they observe, in a yin-and-yang relationship between person and perception. The characters experience an epiphany because of the interaction between observation and self-making, and these epiphanies form a very conventional tragic plot line. Catherine's epiphany takes place in two stages. First she reacts to her mother's adjusting the brim of a hat she had bought at her daughter's milliner's with a ‘‘somewhat tremulous’’ hand. Catherine realizes at this moment that her mother loves her, and that her mother is aging and frail. Her internal response is loving:"Catherine felt a sudden urge to ask her if she had been happy living with her father.’’

However, Catherine fails to act on this impulse, and the train takes her mother away. The epiphany inherent in the event fails to change Catherine, however, because instead of acting consistently with her feelings, she hides behind formality and merely shouts, ‘‘Give my love to Auntie!’’ She walks away with relief, tinged with regret. Regret is a powerful emotion, as Lispector described in a cronica entitled, ‘‘Learning to Live": "There are moments in all our lives which we regret having ignored, allowed to pass, or refused, and that regret is as painful as the deepest sorrow.’’ Catherine's regretful epiphany leaves a residue that colors her reaction in the next stage of the story's climax, when Catherine' son calls her "ugly" because of the wheezing way in which she laughs, with pleasure, at his calling her "Mummy." Her second epiphany is apparent from her physical reaction, coloring, and in her instant decision to take the boy off for a walk. There is a causal relationship between her first and second epiphany, corresponding to rise and the climax of a tragedy. Massaud Moises finds evidence of ‘‘a dramatic unity’’ in the ‘‘internal action’’ in Lispector's stories. That climax is ‘‘the existential moment on which the characters stake their destinies.’’ It is revealed ‘‘by a sudden profoundly psychological revelation which lasts a fleeting second, like the flashing light of a beacon in the dark, and thus escapes being captured in words.’’ Catherine's tragic step of taking her son for a walk results from the residue of regret she felt after failing to respond intimately to her own mother. She creates a new bond with her son in the faint hope that she will succeed where her mother failed. That her mission is doomed from the start is spelled out by Tony, when he thinks that she will transmit a ‘‘prison of love that will descend forever upon the future man.’’

Epiphany leads to tragic results in this story because the characters fail to respond adequately to the moment, due to a tragic flaw. All of the characters in ‘‘Family Ties’’ have a tragic flaw that prevents them from growing and benefiting from their moments of epiphany. In fact, the characters seem almost to revel in their misery. Catherine associates ‘‘mother and daughter’’ with ‘‘life and repugnance,’’ yet she walks away from the train station in a exuberant state. She has, she thinks, escaped the moment of truth through avoidance. But she does not realize that she has only taken another step into the human morass. Through her point of view, the narrator asserts that ‘‘nothing would prevent this little woman who walked swaying her hips from mounting one more mysterious step in her days.’’ However, she takes her son down to the beach, away from the intimacy of home, to form her imprisoning bond with him. The phenome-nological symbolism of her abrupt leave-taking suggests strength, but misplaced strength—a strength in failure. Likewise, the overbearing and criticizing but needy mother Severina shrinks back from being thrown physically against her daughter and tries to uphold an image of success and happiness to her fellow train passengers. She is not unusual in wanting to maintain appearances at the cost of risking a real bond with her daughter. Catherine decides to form the same unhealthy bond with her tiny son, giving him the same legacy that she resents in her relationship with own mother, yet she is happy in doing so. She enjoys the power and avoids thinking about the painful consequences. In a similar way, Tony decides to go to the movies after dinner to avoid being alone with the wife who is reattaching herself to their son instead of to him; he is avoiding confronting her with the comment he repeats impo-tently out of her hearing, that the child is ‘‘still innocent.’’ Moises links these decisions to the existential philosophy that underlines Lispector's stories. Hers is an existential world, and ‘‘this world is inhabited by people who, not knowing the reason for life, commit endless gratuitous acts, fail to communicate among themselves, are impermeable to the 'other' and are condemned to an irremediable solitude.’’ While existentialism certainly underlies the tragic circumstances in this story, it follows the very traditional form of tragedy, within its phe-nomenological framework.

The tragic recognition that Lispector exposes in ‘‘Family Ties’’ is that love has hate in it. An analysis of the title of the story underscores this reading. Giovanni Pontiero points out"the double significance of the word Lacos (ties)—referring on the one hand to the chain of conformity with social conventions that link each human to his fellow men [sic]; on the other hand to the bonds of solitude and alienation inherent in our humanity.’’ Despite its seeming amorphous flow,"Family Ties'' is not just a tragic tale told in the phenomenological form. The phenomenological approach supplies the axis of the conflict, the climax, since the heart of the tragedy occurs not outside of the characters in a contest with a formidable enemy, the forces of nature, or fate, but internally, within their hearts. Their tragic flaws prevent them from learning and growing from their epiphanies. The real enemy lies within the character as a fatal inability to embrace intimacy. Each family member is bound by tragic family ties and is doomed to re-recreate these bonds of love and hate in an endless cycle like those of the Greek tragedies.

Source: Carole Hamilton, in an essay for Literature of Developing Nations for Students, Gale, 2000.
Hamilton is an English teacher at Cary Academy, an innovative private school in Cary, North Carolina.

Family Relationships in Lispector's story

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1670

As its title implies, Lispector's short story ‘‘Family Ties'' is concerned with relationships among family members. The story dwells upon the relationships between the characters in seven different juxtapositions, including: mother/daughter, daughter/father, mother-in-law/son-in-law, grandmother/ grandson, mother/son, father/son, and husband/wife. Each relationship is characterized by coldness, distance, and alienation.

As the story opens, Catherine is riding in a taxi with her mother, Severina, to the train station after a two-week visit. Catherine's attitude toward her mother is described by the look in her eyes, which bears ‘‘a constant gleam of derision and indifference.’’ Her mother expresses constant anxiety through her continual counting and recounting of her two suitcases. The mother also repeatedly asks Catherine if she has ‘‘forgotten anything.’’ Her anxiety over having forgotten something symbolizes an absence in the relationship between mother and daughter; they have both ‘‘forgotten something’’ important about their relationship. They seem to have forgotten the ‘‘family tie’’ of mother/child intimacy, however remote in the past, which continues to bind them. They are only reminded of this long-forgotten intimacy when the taxi driver suddenly slams on the brakes, and the two women fall against each other: "Catherine had been thrown against Severina with a physical intimacy long since forgotten, and going back to the days when she belonged to her mother and father.’’ However, this accidental moment of physical intimacy between mother and daughter is not characteristic of their relationship, even when Catherine was a child, as ‘‘they had never really embraced or kissed each other.’’ While this could have been an opportunity for an acknowledgment of what they had "forgotten," both women respond with anxiety and further distance: "after the collision in the taxi and their composure had been restored, they had nothing further to say to each other—both of them feeling anxious to arrive at the station.’’ While waiting for the train, mother and daughter still do not know what to say to each other.

From Catherine's perspective, their mother/daughter relationship is one of distance and disdain: "As if 'mother and daughter' meant 'life and repugnance.'’’ In fact, ‘‘she could not say that she loved her mother.'' However, as the train is pulling out of the station, and mother and daughter exchange a final glance, Catherine does feel a sense that something has been "forgotten." And what they have "forgotten" is to acknowledge the ‘‘family ties’’ which bind them to one another as mother and daughter, despite their differences and the emotional distance they feel: ‘‘What had they forgotten to say to each other? It seemed to her that the older woman should have said one day, 'I am your mother, Catherine,' and that she should have replied, 'And I am your daughter.’’' But it seems that it is literally too late for this acknowledgment, as the train pulls out of the station, and her mother's face disappears from view. The implication is that the inherent intimacy of this mother/daughter relationship will once again be "forgotten," and the relationship between the two women, despite their ‘‘family ties,’’ will always be one of distance, disdain, and alienation. However, the strong maternal image left with Catherine is indicated when, as the train pulls away, she sees that ‘‘her mother's face disappeared for a second and now reappeared, hatless, the topknot on her head undone and falling in white strands over her shoulders like the tresses of a madonna.’’ This image refers to the Christian iconography of the mother of Jesus, often depicted in artistic representation as ‘‘madonna and child.’’

Although her relationship with her mother has always been one of distance, Catherine had a closer connection to her father. This intimacy between father and daughter, however, seems to have been built upon their mutual and clandestine sense of alienation from Catherine's mother: ‘‘When her mother used to fill their plates, forcing them to eat far too much, the two of them used to wink at each other in complicity without her mother ever noticing.’’ Thus, Catherine's only experience of intimacy in her family of origin is one in which two family members secretly take sides in bonding over their distance from a third family member. Along with her sense of distance from her mother, Catherine's ideas about intimacy with her father are also indirectly based on alienation.

While Catherine's relationship with her mother is characterized by a mutual "forgetting" of the mother/daughter bond, as expressed through their coolness toward one another, her husband's relationship with her mother is even chillier: ‘‘During the older woman's two-week visit, the two of them had barely endured each other's company; the good-mornings and good-evenings had resounded constantly with a cautious tact which had made [Catherine] smile.’’ Catherine seems to take a certain delight in observing the alienation between her husband and mother, as if it confirmed her own alienation from her mother. At the moment of departure, however, her mother attempts to reconcile with her son-in-law, as "before getting into the taxi, the mother had changed into the exemplary mother-in-law and the husband had become the good son-in-law.’’ Catherine seems to enjoy observing her husband's discomfort at being ‘‘forced into being the son of that gray-haired little woman.'' Catherine's inability to think of her mother as a mother is indicated by the fact that she describes her as ‘‘that gray-haired little woman.’’ Furthermore, Catherine's coolness toward her own husband is suggested by the fact that she seems to enjoy seeing him squirm; she even has to repress the urge to laugh at him.

Even the relationship between Severina and her grandson, Catherine and Tony's son, seems to be unpleasant. While the relationship between a grandmother and her grandchild is traditionally one of warmth and affection, this one is characterized by distance and antagonism. Severina complains to Catherine that her son is ‘‘thin and highly strung.’’ The little expressions of endearment traditionally bestowed by a grandparent upon a beloved grandchild in this family have become perverted into a negative experience on the part of the grandchild. ‘‘During his grandmother's visit he had become even more distant and he had started to sleep badly, disturbed by the excessive endearments and affectionate pinching of the older woman.’’

Like her relationship with her mother, Catherine' s relationship with her own son is characterized by distance and alienation. The son seems to have inherited Catherine's sensibilities in his coolness, distance, and inability to express childish affection for his own mother. Like Catherine, her son lacks the ability to form any emotional attachment or connection, or express any human warmth, to other people. Catherine notes that ‘‘he observed things coldly, unable to connect them among themselves.'' In playing with an inanimate object, he is ‘‘exact and distant.'' Even when she tries to scold him,"the child looked indifferently into the air, communicating with himself.’’ She finds that ‘‘his mind was always somewhere else. No one had yet succeeded in really catching his attention.’’ Even when he addresses her as "Mummy,’’ it is because he wants something. However, after returning from seeing her mother off at the train station, Catherine hears him address her as "Mummy'' for the first time in a warmer tone. She momentarily feels that this is a "verification" of her maternal connection to him. However, this is immediately undermined when he looks at her and says "ugly." Catherine's inability to feel a maternal connection or sense of warmth toward her own mother is thus reproduced in her son's distant, cold, and even cruel regard for her.

The relationship of Tony, Catherine's husband, to their son seems to be even more distant and indifferent than any of the other relationships in the story. It is mentioned that Tony "had never really given much attention to his son's sensibility.’’

The relationship between Catherine and her husband Tony is almost as cool and distant as that between Catherine and her mother. Tony has always designated Saturdays as ‘‘his own,’’ meaning that he is exempt from paying attention to his wife and son. When Catherine returns from the train station, he ‘‘scarcely raised his eyes from his book.’’ It is implied that his indifference toward her seems to extend beyond his Saturdays. However, when Catherine spontaneously leaves the apartment with their son to take a walk, Tony becomes keenly aware that he is now literally alone. From this point, the perspective of the story changes from that of Catherine's to that of Tony's, as he watches his wife and son from the window. Tony reflects that, although the couple live "tranquilly" and "peacefully" and "everything worked smoothly'' in their home, there is something lacking in their relationship. Catherine's coldness and distance from him is indicated by his description of her as "that serene woman of thirty-two who never really spoke, as if she had lived since the beginning of time.'' He knows that, although he is a successful engineer with a promising future, Catherine "despises" their home life, and will grow to "hate'' their life together.

All of the family relationships described in this story are characterized by coldness, distance, and alienation. A recurring image which captures the atmosphere of these ‘‘family ties’’ is one of imprisonment. While observing her child, Catherine imagines that she is ‘‘escaping from Severina,’’ her mother. Tony imagines that mothers bestow upon their children a "prison of love,'' and that their son will grow up to feel "imprisoned'' in their home. He imagines that, in leaving the house to take a walk with their son, Catherine is "escaping" from him and their marriage and home life. This story thus presents an extremely cynical and bitter depiction of the "ties" which constitute three generations of a family.

Source: Liz Brent, in an essay for Literature of Developing Nations for Students, Gale, 2000.
Brent has a Ph.D. in American culture with a specialization in film studies from the University of Michigan. She is a freelance writer and teaches courses in the history of American cinema.

The Isolation among the Family Member in Family Ties

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1666

With the short story collection Family Ties, Brazilian author Clarice Lispector firmly established her reputation. Though she has also written novels, in examining her life's work most critics agree that her true medium lies in the shorter fiction form. The stories in Family Ties explore those issues most crucial to the author. Writes Giovanni Pontiero in his introduction to the English translation of Family Ties, ‘‘[T]he stories of Laços de Familia give a comprehensive picture of the author's private world of deep psychological complexities. The narrative in these stories often appears to evolve from smoke— from some momentary experience or minor episode that seems quite insignificant in itself. Action, as such, is virtually nonexistent, and the threads of tension are maintained by use of stream-of-con-sciousness techniques and interior monologues.’’ Indeed, the plot of the story that lends its name to the collection could hardly be given such a weighty label, and the narration essentially takes place within the minds of two main characters, a husband and wife, who are estranged from each other as well as from the people who inhabit their world.

‘‘Family Ties’’ can be divided into two sections. The first section features a thirty-two-year-old woman, Catherine, who is accompanying her mother to the train station at the end of a two-week visit. The women have very little proper communication, but an opportunity arises for them to make a connection, which both refuse. The second section takes place at Catherine's home. She decides to forge a bond with her son, and she takes him away, leaving her husband to wonder where they are going, what they are doing, and when they will return.

At the heart of the story is humankind's essential loneliness and alienation. As such, Lispector demonstrates the influence of existentialist writers, who were concerned with issues of freedom, human suffering and failure, and alienation. On a more personal level, however, Catherine, and to a lesser extent, her husband, show the effects of living a life apart. Their actions have ramifications for their son as well, but the reader is left not knowing whether Catherine's experience and her reaction will have any significant change on the relationship between mother and son, and possibly father and son.
The first section of the story makes clear the isolation in which the members of the family— Catherine, her husband Tony, their four-year-old son, and her mother Severina—exist. Nobody in this family makes any pretenses to true closeness or even derives pleasure in each other's company, not even husband and wife, or child and parent. Severina and Tony ' 'had barely endured each other's company' ' throughout the visit. Severina, who thinks her grandson is too ‘‘thin and highly strung,’’ scares him. ‘‘During his grandmother's visit he had become even more distant and he had started to sleep badly, disturbed by the excessive endearments and affectionate pinching of the old woman.’’ Significantly, it is the very act of receiving attention that frightens the child and disrupts his sense of self. Clearly, the child is not accustomed to being the focus of love, or more likely, accustomed to being the focus of any sort of emotion.

The section also shows that Catherine and Severina have never had any kind of close relationship themselves. Both women shy away from drawing together, as physically demonstrated in the taxi ‘‘when a sudden slamming of brakes threw them against each other.’’ This unexpected occurrence shocks Catherine ' 'because something had, in fact, happened. . .Catherine had been thrown against Severina with a physical intimacy long since forgotten.’’ The contact reminds Catherine that she once ‘‘belonged to a father and a mother,’’ though she immediately reveals that it was with her father that she had always had the ' 'much closer relationship.’’ For her part, after being thrown against her daughter, Severina reacts by paying attention to her luggage. ‘‘I haven't forgotten anything?’’ she asks her daughter, who gives her the gloves picked up from the floor of the cab. What both women have forgotten, however, is how to be a family, indeed, how to express emotion for each other or even how to feel emotion for each other. As Catherine admits, the words ‘‘mother and daughter’’ to her mean ‘‘life and repugnance.’’ In fact, ‘‘she could not say that she loved her mother. Her mother distressed her, that was it.’’

At the moment of leave-taking, however, Catherine feels some strange stirring. She notices that her mother had ' 'aged and that her eyes were shining,’’ as if with unshed tears. When the bell announcing the departure of the train rings, the women ‘‘exchanged frightened glances.’’ Suddenly, both of them feel their disconnection from each other, and ironically, this alienation is explicitly demonstrated to the reader by their similar thoughts. At the same moment that Catherine is about to ask her mother if she had forgotten anything, Severina again poses that question, ‘‘I haven't forgotten anything?’’ as she had in the cab. The women ' 'looked apprehensively at each other—because, if something had really been forgotten, it was too late now.’’ Catherine anxiously wants to open some line of communication. She wants to establish that a relationship actually exists between them. Her mother ' 'should have said one day, 'I am your mother, Catherine,' and.. .she should have replied, 'And I am your daughter.'’’ With these words, Catherine and Severina would prove not merely their familial bond but a bond between two humans that exists because they want it to be so. All Catherine is able to say, however, is a warning not to sit in a draft.

As soon as the train pulls out of the station, however, Catherine returns to her usual persona. Moving from the platform, ' 'she had recovered her brisk manner of walking,’’ for ‘‘alone it was much easier.’’ Ironically, as she walks, she moves in ‘‘perfect harmony’’ and demonstrates to any interested passerby ' 'the relationship this woman had for the things of the world.'' Although she never openly manifested having a similar interest for her mother, her body retains the memory of what just transpired. The second section of the story takes place at Catherine's home, and the action rises directly from Catherine's leave-taking with her mother. Catherine feels both the lack of connection with her mother and relief at "escaping" from her. These contradictory feelings affect how she treats her son, whom she is intent on reaching, both physically, in his room, and emotionally. The first glimpse of the child shows his isolation from his parents—that he has been forced to live in a fairly solitary world— for he amuses himself by ' 'playing with a wet towel, exact and distant.’’ When Catherine speaks to him, he ' 'looked indifferently into the air, communicating with himself.’’ (And later, Tony's narration shows the son's inherent difference from his parents: ‘‘he stamped his feet and shouted in his sleep.’’) In the interaction between mother and son, the boy shows his disinterest—even his distaste— for his mother. He calls her "ugly" when she wheezes while laughing (an action that symbolically shows her transformation and her desire to be more open, for earlier the narration revealed that ' 'she never in fact laughed when she felt the urge’’). She grabs the child ' 'by the hand'' [italics mine] and leads him from the apartment where so little affection has been sown.

At this point, the story shifts to the mind of the husband, Tony. He, the man who had seemed disinterested in his wife's return (he ' 'scarcely raised his eyes from his book'' when she came in) and in his son's activities, suddenly feels the emptiness of the apartment. He reveals that while he liked Saturdays to be ' 'his own,'' he also desired that Catherine and the boy be at home ' 'while he pursued his private occupations.’’ His narrative shows Tony's dual desires. He wants to be perceived as an adequate provider for a family but he is essentially a solitary man who wants both to be alone and to control his surroundings. While he values the relationship between himself and his wife, which he calls ‘‘tranquil,’’ others might very well call it distant or even perverse, for his most in-depth revelation about his treatment of his wife is his confession that' 'he tried to humiliate her by entering the room while she was changing her clothes, because he knew that she had detested being seen in the nude. (Why did he find it necessary to humiliate her?)'' The answer is clear— he seeks to maintain some, any, connection with his wife—though he does not even recognize it as such.

What provokes Tony's unhappiness at his wife's departure is his innate understanding that his wife is about to attain some sort of connection with their son: ‘‘Now mother and son were understanding each other within the mystery they shared.’’ Though Tony has no true desire to share in any ' 'mystery,'' either with his wife or his son, he does not want them to join without him. He would prefer that all members of the family continue to exist in their isolated boxes. In the end, Tony cannot handle his own explorations of his feelings. Instead of investigating why he is reacting so strongly, he, a man who treasures a life in which ' 'everything worked smoothly,’’ jettisons his thoughts into the future, when his wife will return with their son and all will return to normal. ‘‘When Catherine returned they would dine. . .'After dinner we'll go to the cinema,' the man decided. Because after the cinema it would be night at last, and this day would break up like the waves on the rocks of Arpoador.’’

Source: Rena Korb, in an essay for Literature of Developing Nations for Students, Gale, 2000.
Korb has a master's degree in English literature and creative writing and has written for a wide variety of educational publishers.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Family Ties Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Previous

Critical Overview