, 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.