Father and Son
Parallels between the two characters
Differences between the generations
A sense of foreboding
The title of the story immediately establishes these two characters as archetypes: they are not merely individuals, but they represent every father and son. Because of this, the title brings with it immediate connotations of the father/son relationship.
There are many positive aspects to this relationship: the Bible is full of relationships between father and son, particularly the love between them, as can be seen at the Baptism of Christ (“This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased”) and the story of the prodigal son.
On the other hand, there are negative connotations, such as the power struggle between a young man seeking to assert his own personality and an older man reluctant to relinquish dominance.
It is not surprising that in this story, both these aspects of the father/son relationship exist uneasily alongside one another.
The title sets out the bond between these characters, but also the divisions and oppositions which exist between two generations of the same gender.
Often, the language and incidents of the story parody allusions which the author may expect you to make. Unlike the Father of the Bible, here is a man disappointed by his son: “Here lies my son who let me down.” Unlike the father of the parable, he cannot forgive his prodigal son, and instead expects constant atonement from him.
The story is set in the recent past in Belfast. As a result, the reader brings with him an awareness of the troubles in that city, and can anticipate the effect of the hostile environment on the characters. However, the setting does more than this: it embodies one of the themes of the story, communication. The tensions of this divided city – where there is often little communication, only violent response – not only provide the backdrop of anxiety in which the characters are forced to live, but they also reflect the violence, separateness and lack of communication within the home.
The house itself is never described in any physical detail; the reader is only aware of sounds: the “click” of feet, the “snap of a switch”, a paper that “crackles like fire”. All of these are reminiscent of a snipers, and their burning nature suggest unrest and violence within the home. The other sounds replace conversation and communication. The radio and television are used to drown out the noises which cause fear or represent the father’s only access to knowledge of his son’s whereabouts.
The emotions of the characters are transferred to the home: the door “shudders” as the father leaves in the morning. Any descriptive detail in the story belongs to the past, and we hear about a garden burgeoning with produce for the whole street before the weeds took over the garden and the father’s life. In fact, all the images of the story, even the description of the gun, are drawn from the past.
Consider carefully the repeated way in which the boy builds barriers between himself and his father: a newspaper, duvet or a slammed door can often prevent communication.
On one level, the story dramatises the effects of a violent environment on a family, but the issues of the story transcend the setting. The story deals with the complex nature of human emotions and relationships. Very often, our deepest feelings are not those which we communicate. Very often the language we use obscures what we truly feel. Often, though we are aware of the...
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