Exploring Loss and Desperation in Kazuo Ishigoru’s ‘A Family Supper’

Category: Samurai, Suicide
Last Updated: 31 Mar 2023
Pages: 5 Views: 156

A Family Supper The Japanese fighter pilots in WWII committed suicide attacks on allied forces aka kamikaze; it was considered an honorable service to the Empire of Japan. Death instead of defeat and shame is the primary tradition in the Japanese samurai culture. They lived with the bushido code: “Loyalty and Honor before death”. The short story in discussion is “A Family Supper” written by Kazuo Ishigoru.

This story tells us about an evening when the son-the protagonist and the narrator of this story, returns to Japan to meet his family after spending two years in United States, and the unsaid tension between him and his father. This story is about loss; Loss of family, friends, love and hope. The author shows the father as lost, hopeless and desperate. The loss of his wife, firm and children and the hopelessness leads him to consider suicide. The setting of the story symbolises the father’s worries and disappointments.

The dusk, dimly lit rooms, the garden and the ghost story is a major part of the setting that the author wants the reader to imagine in order to predict how the story will unfold. The narrator’s state of mind is never really told directly, but the readers can judge it by the way he behaves with his family. The repetition of death and loss; the mother’s death, the fathers loss of firm, his friend’s mass family suicide, the loss of his son and his daughter which he probably foresees, results in father’s depressed and disappointed state of mind.

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The author starts the story with death of the mother by fish poisoning, usually if death is mentioned in the beginning, the reader braces himself for a story involving death, and the way the story unfolds there had to be at least a death if not a mass suicide. The setting of the story symbolises the father’s worries and disappointments. The narrator describes his father as a “formidable-looking man with a large stony jaw and furious black eyebrows” (338) tells the reader about the generation gap between the father and son.

The story is set in dark and dimly lit backgrounds; the sun was setting by the time they reach home. The Garden in which Kikuko, the sister and the narrator take a stroll is probably the darkest part of the setting, they discuss their childhood memories of the ghost in the garden; at that time he casually finds out about his sister’s plans to leave Japan to be with her boyfriend, perhaps the father foresees her intensions, it is not conclusive. The dark garden symbolises the anxiety of the sister, the mother’s beliefs in ghosts and her disappointment to the narrator’s actions.

She blamed herself as she thought she was not a good parent, though this matter was not elaborated by the siblings as they thought it was useless to bring it up and won’t change anything. The narrator says “My relationship with my parents had become somewhat strained around the period of time. ”(338). Later, when the narrator looks around the house, the large dark empty rooms, or overly cramped room shows how the father has acted all these years by keeping off his emotions and secluding himself from the rest of the family.

The awkward long pauses between him and the father, the father’s inquisitiveness about his (sons) future plans, demonstrates the unsaid tension between the father and son. By this setting, the author wants the reader to feel the menacing effect of the story. The narrator’s character can be judged by his thoughts. By his conversations it can be said that he does not feel the love and emotions that one should feel for family.

The battleship shows that the father had a lot of time in his hands, but when he says: “these little gunboats here could have been better glued, don’t you think”(342), he is perhaps comparing the battleship to his broken family , and asking if it could have been better, but the son did not realize this or perhaps he may have understood what his father was asking and answered “it looks fine”(342), Later in the story he looks at his mother’s photograph but he cannot recognize his mother and asks, “who is the old women in the white kimono? (343), first he mentions that his mother looks a lot older, later he says, “it’s dark. I can’t see well” (343). These incidents show that he has truly been an irresponsible son, nobody talks about their dead mother like he just did; he does not care about his family, their love that his parents expect from him and he fails to see the misery of the father.

Moreover, the father looks like he is willing to forgive his son, though the story does not give any hint of his compromise on the Japanese values and traditions, it does show that he wants his children to be a part of his life. Death was mentioned repeatedly in the story. Starting with the mother’s death by fugu, the partner Watanabe’s suicide was mentioned three times at different scenes in the story. The father acknowledges that he likes Watanabe’s ethics in general; he calls him “a man of principle and honor” (339).

The father says he wishes to be a pilot because “in an airplane there is always the final weapon”, this shows that the father’s state of mind was no different from that of his partners, the father thought dying in an airplane by kamikaze was a better way to go, this shows that his father is considers death as a means to unite the family. The Japanese traditions do not look down upon suicide. In the Japanese culture people don’t live in shame and dishonor. It’s far honorable die then to live in shame. The dead business partner has been glorified by the father in more than one occasion. A family supper” is not a story of just one family, it is a story that separates two generations, and it is a story of the father who was once a hero to his children. This story tells us about the older generation’s honor and sacrifice to their values, culture and traditions on the other hand it demonstrates how the world today has changed to be practical and not tied up with relations; how the younger generation sees today’s seniors as empty and dimly lit rooms. In this story the father was lonely, he lost his wife, his firm, his son and very soon he will be losing his daughter.

The father always wanted his children to be with him, he offers the narrator to stay with him, he is desperate to see his family united, and is afraid that his family can never be happy as he wanted. This desperation mixed with the Japanese philosophy of pure blood samurai; leave the father an option of suicide. This way he can be with his family and leave this disgraceful life. The need for love and bonding is demonstrated in this story. Japanese traditions like many Asian traditions dictate that you satisfy the elders with respect and happiness and never leave them to be alone.

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Exploring Loss and Desperation in Kazuo Ishigoru’s ‘A Family Supper’. (2017, Feb 09). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/essay-on-family-supper/

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