Essay: Family supper (literature)

From what has been noticed in most books, place is central to an understanding of a writer’s work since the notion of place contributes to the larger meaning of what writers intend to convey to readers. Place, is a central feature of literature in so far as it places a writer’s work within a specific location. In most novels a sense of place from the very beginning is inevitable. Characters and story don’t exist in a void as every human event happens somewhere, and the reader wants to know where is that ‘somewhere’ and what is it like. Place serves a function that it puts the reader where the writer intends him/her to be mentally, and this information gives the reader some insight into the history. Not just the locations and physical scenery of a place, but the culture, the history, the political and social climate, the weather, the language, and the mood of a place. Another feature of place in literature is that it serves to activate the reader’s senses and to evoke an emotional response on the part of readers. A sense of place in literature should “arouse the reader’s response”.

In the “Family supper” the dominant setting is on an autumn evening at present-day Tokyo, Japan, in the Kamakura district. The fact that the story takes place in Japan represents a change in the son’s life, as he had been living in California for a few years and is now returning home. Although Kamakura district is now a rather small city, it used to be one of the capital cities of Japan as the seat of the Shogunate. This historical detail might be important as it explains the narrator’s observation that his father is “proud of the pure samurai blood that ran in the family”. The narrator’s parents shape the conflict of the story between the old and the new, the Japanese tradition and the modern culture, the conflict between Japan and America.

The father’s house offers several details that contribute to the setting of the story. For example, father and son discuss the suicide of the Watanabe, in the tea room, and from where the son sits, he can see over in the garden a well: “make out the ancient well…was haunted…the garden had fallen into shadow.” Later he and his sister Kikuko, who lives in Osaka, put on straw sandals to go for walk in the garden “Then quite suddenly she decided we should walk in the garden…The daylight had almost gone.”, “We were following a narrow path…old well.”, “I imagine she had some trouble…walls.”, “We both looked around…I pointed…ten yeards away.” During those scenes, the narrator and Kikuko are freely displaying their emotions on what they are planning for their lives. Therefore, we could see the garden as a symbol of freedom of speech and relaxation. However, the children feel free only in the absence of their father. We could receive that as a gap of generations but also we could say that the children did not have a very close relationship with their father since their mother’s death.

The presence of a lifeless, empty house presents the loneliness that both the narrator and the father feel. “I followed my father…But the rooms were all startlingly empty…pale light that came from the windows.” Furthermore, it seems that the father still locates his identity within the Japanese traditions, even while they are crumbling, and he is struggling to live in the present. We see that in another detail of setting: the model battleship he has built and displays on a table, in one of the rooms, still with furniture, flowers, and pictures. Significantly, the ship is made of plastic, something artificial, but the father’s memories on a similar ship during the war are very real. While holding it, he says to his son, “I don’t suppose you believe in war”, indicating the gap of their beliefs. The battleship could also represent the narrator’s broken family and we can see the father’s hope for the family to reunite when he to tells his son: “These little gunboats here could have been better glued…” The lose attachment of the gunboats represent the weak bond between the family. However, it is obvious that the father still hopes that the three of them will be a family again.

Another scene of the story that offers a sense of place is when the family is moving to a room next to the kitchen to start the dinner. “Supper was waiting…casting the rest of the room into shadow”. If we would like to analyse this scene we could say that when the story refers to a “dimly lit room” it refers to the broken bond of the family and that the big lantern which is the only source of light in the room could be the memory of the mother which is the only thing that unites the family.

However, the author leaves us with an uncertainty about the end of the story because there is a possibility that the father served for dinner fugu fish and that was the reason why he made such a long introduction talking just about how his mother died from eating fugu fish in the beginning of the story.

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