The Role of Fathers in 20th Century Literature

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The Role of Fathers in 20th Century Literature

There is a very common trend in 20th century literature, and it is the lack of fathers and/or father figures in the literature. Throughout the course of this class, the readings featured often followed this trend and over half of the stories did not include a father or father figure. In the story Recitatif by Toni Morrison, there are two young girls who are living in a boarding home because their mothers cannot take care of them. In this story, like many others of 20th century literature, there is an obvious absence of fathers and there is not even a single mention of either of the girls’ fathers. This trend is also found in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use and in Conversion of the Jews by Phillip Roth. In a stark contrast to the common trend of lack of fathers in 20th century literature, much of the literature we read was from the perspective of the father or focusing on the father. This paper will explore the differences between the stories that featured an absence of fathers/father figures and the stories that were told from the perspective of the father or focused on the father.

In Phillip Roth’s Conversion of the Jews, there is only one passage, a very small mention, of Ozzie’s father; “… and when Mrs. Freedman came through the door she tossed off her coat, kissed Ozzie quickly on the face, and went to the kitchen table to light the three yellow candles, two for the Sabbath and one for Ozzie’s father… Even when his father was alive Ozzie remembered that her eyes had gotten glassy, so it didn’t have anything to do with his dying. It had something to do with lighting the candles.” This small passage acts as a great exception to the all-too-common trend in 20th century literature where there is a lack of fathers/father figures. In Conversion of the Jews, this explanation of the absence of Ozzie’s father adds a lot to the story. Oftentimes, the lack of a father/father figure added a lot to the story even if the reader did not explicitly notice. The absence of fathers is often a very good discussion topic, because it is easy to imagine how much differently the story would be if the father had been in the family’s lives.

In another reading where the father has died, Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World by Sherman Alexie, the story is told from the perspective of the son, who is a grown man that simply forgot that his father has passed nearly a year before this poem takes place. The death of his father in this poem, and the fact that he still thought of his father every day, shows that they had a good relationship before his passing and that the now-absence of his father is nothing that he is resentful about, but that the son is simply sad and misses his father. This poem highlights the good relationship that a father can have with his son, because even after his father’s death, the son still thought of his father when he needed something or had a problem and wished that he was still around. This poem is a refreshing contrast to the other stories that had an absent father.

In a story relatively different from the above two, Love Dad by Joseph Heller, is a short-story written from the perspective of Nately, a young man who is away at war in the Air Corps (now known as the Air Force) during World War II. He writes about his experiences growing up and going to Harvard before joining the Air Corps to avoid being drafted into the Infantry during World War II. Throughout the story you can see how naïve Nately’s parents are about life during war through the letters written to Nately by his father. His father obviously does not understand the seriousness of war and this makes the end of the story even more shocking than I believe it would have been had Nately’s father actually understood that there was a very real chance of losing Nately to the war. The last line of the story reads “The letter was returned to [Nately’s father] stamped KILLED IN ACTION.” This comes after...
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