Research Paper English 590
August 5, 2012
Where Have all the Fathers Gone?
The representation of fatherhood in American comic narratives reflects the representation of fatherhood in America canonical literature. Neither medium completely represents fatherhood in a substantial way. For some reason (which we will explore later) most American authors, including comic authors, avoid the use of fatherhood as a theme.
In order to discuss fatherhood in American literature, a working definition is in order. What is fatherhood? William Shakespeare once wrote, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.” Decent fathers show a sincere interest in their child’s life. They pay close attention to their child beginning as early as possible and extending into later life. Good fathers understand that every child is unique in physical, emotional, and cognitive ways. And, an aware father knows that every child has his or her own personality and is concerned with the development of their children according to their children’s individualities.
First, to fully explore the fatherhood theme (or lack of) in American literature a brief history concerning the cause of lack of father-figures in American fiction is necessary. The reason the father is absent in American writing is explained by David Pugh in his Sons of Liberty: the Masculine Mind in Nineteenth-Century America (1983) as being closely connected with the American Revolution. His view describes the American Revolution as a symbolic battle between Father-England and his unruly American sons. Freedom for these young Americans means that they could build a new life and nation free from the institutions and customs of authority of the English father (Pugh, xvi). The father figure of King George was replaced with George Washington, the first father of a new nation. Ironically, the young Americans replaced an authoritarian father-figure with a politically distant father-figure. It is no wonder that fatherhood in American literature reflects a distant or absent father incapable of sustaining a personal relationship. Josep Armengol-Carrera’s article Where are Fathers in American Literature? cites several classics that note missing fathers and portray the protagonists as self-made individuals.
In the nineteenth century, Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) depicts the life of a single mother and her daughter, who is neglected by the father. Likewise, father-figures are missing from much of Melville’s work. His well-known protagonists, from Billy Budd to Ishmael come from unknown parentage. In other works, such as Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the father is portrayed as an obstacle to the protagonist. For instance, “Pap” is an abusive drunk who pops in and out of Huck’s life for his own selfish purposes.
Other prominent American authors such as Harriet Beecher Stow and Louisa May Alcott of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Little Women respectively, include father-figures, but they are represented as weak and secondary characters. Little Women focuses on female characters where men play minor roles. Carrera surmises that novels like Little Women not only avoid the theme of fatherhood, but seem to establish a connection between the “father-figure’s lack and the daughter’s progress” (Armengol-Carrera, 212). Similarly, Augustine St. Clare, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is represented as resentful and bored of his responsibilities to his family and plantation and ends up leaving the work to Uncle Tom.
Lack of fatherly representation continues in American literature through the twentieth century. Fitzgerald creates a protagonist who leaves his parents in pursuit of his American dream. Likewise, Hemmingway excludes fatherhood from his literary work. According to Carrera, Hemmingway considers fatherhood a “hovering threat to the more idyllic friendships between men” (Armengol-Carrera, 213). (Interestingly, Hemmingway and...