Dysfunctional Families In Canadian Short Stories Essay

, Research Paper

Dysfunctional family relationships form the basis of many Canadian short stories. Often,

tragedy is the end result of severe family breakdown. In other cases, personality defects

are directly traceable to poor family dynamics. In the stories Hurt , Fall of a City ,

and The Sound of Hollyhocks there were very profound family problems.

The difficulty in the father/son relationship in Hurt reflects a role reversal. Even though

Stevie is only a young boy, he took care of himself and his father. Stevie made his own

meals and when his father was inebriated, he …went down to the store and got him a

couple bottles of vanilla to sober up on. (pg. 195) In a family situation a young child

such as Stevie should not have the responsibility of taking care of his parent. Moreover,

even when Stevie s father was sober, Stevie could do whatever he liked without

consequence. Skip described such a freedom when he said that Stevie went to school

when he wanted to go… (pg. 193) This lack of rules or an authority figure demonstrates

the dysfunctionality of this family. Also, Stevie s father was a violent alcoholic. Skip

observed that somedays Stevie s father would be …pounding on the walls with his fists

and swearing and crying all at the same time… (pg. 195) The parent/child role reversal ,

the lack of structure, discipline, and authority in the home and the violent episodes

demonstrate the degree of dysfunction in this family.

Fall of a City depicts the dysfunctional relationship between Teddy and his guardians.

Teddy s aunt is constantly ordering him around. After asking Teddy what he was doing in

the attic she says very harshly Well, young man, you better wipe that scowl off your

face and march to the bathroom and get ready for supper. (pg. 43) His aunt s coldness

certainly contributes to their imperfect relationship. Furthermore, Teddy has a strained

connection with his uncle because of his uncle s endless teasing. At the dinner table,

Teddy s uncle says, He s got his head in the clouds again. and then his uncle

laughed mirthlessly. (pg. 43) His uncle also teases him when Teddy is playing with

paper dolls (pg. 45). This constant harassment causes the difficulties in their relationship.

Finally, neither Teddy s aunt nor his uncle trust him. Simply because Teddy spends a

considerable amount of time playing in the attic on a rainy day, his aunt asks suspiciously,

You been into some mischief up there? (pg. 42) and then she sends her husband to

investigate (pg. 44). This clearly shows that the adults did not trust Teddy and it is

imperative that an emotionally healthy family relationship be based on trust. The

relationships between Teddy and his aunt and uncle are dysfunctional because Teddy s

aunt constantly orders him around, his uncle teases him, and neither grown-up trusts him.

In The Sound of Hollyhocks there is a dysfunctional maternal relationship. Firstly,

Rock s mother is very controlling towards her son. When Rock s parents visit him in the

hospital, his mother says,

If you ask me you re completely recovered now from

your breakdown, and I m sure you ll be much better

off at home, where I can take care of you. (pg. 17)

Believing her son to have been misdiagnosed (pg. 17), his mother wants him to be at

home so she can dominate him more easily. This need to control her son indicates the

extent of their dysfunctional relationship. Secondly, Rock s mother does not respect her

son s wife and this places a great strain on her relationship with Rock. After her first

meeting with her mother-in-law, …Sandra was never again invited to the house. (pg.

10) By trying to destroy her son s marriage, Rock s mother is making her relationship

with her son more problematic. Thirdly, Rock does not want to live with his mother.

This demonstrates his lack of affection for her and his fear of her power over him. His

disrespect and anxiety is evident after the parents visit their hospitalized son and he says,

The Bitch of Belsen wants me back, but I won t go-never-never again! (pg. 17) So

extreme is Rock s emotional turmoil that he commits suicide to avoid his mother s hold

over him. (pg. 18) His words and actions reveal his abhorrence of his mother and thus

their relationship is severely flawed. The dysfunctional relationship between Rock and his

mother is the result of the mother s need to control her son, her lack of respect for her

daughter-in-law, and Rock s unwillingness to live with his mother.

The dysfunctional relationships in short stories add an element of reality. All too often in

our lives, we experience such problems in our own families or with our friends. There are

many factors which contribute to the breakdown of the relationships in these stories. Such

factors include alcoholism in Hurt , suspicion in Fall of a City and control in The

Sound of Hollyhocks . The reality of such relationships make the stories more interesting,

thought-provoking, and entertaining in a tragic sense. Perhaps the reader can learn by

experiencing the angst of these characters and can try to identify trouble spots in personal

relationships before it is too late.


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