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The Dysfunctional Family in Post-war American Fictions

Rima Bhattacharya

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Kanpur, India

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF

Abstract

With the advent of the modern and postmodern era, the notion of family has undergone radical transformation. Moving far apart from their ‘nuclear’ status both families and communities are now a days heterogeneous constructions, driven primarily by materialism and self-interest. A widespread dissemination of statistical evidence in the mass media suggests the predominance of the so-called dysfunctional family in the American life due to a list of causes like: co-habitation, same-sex union, economic sustainability of women, lack of responsibility of men, increased rate of illegitimacy. For a long period of time the post-war American novels too have been focusing on the issue of family decline or the dysfunctional family and its effect on an individual identity. The reasons behind family decline in these fictions are not very different from real life. Several scholars have recently written books and articles claiming that the modern American family is not declining as much as it is changing its nature. The paper takes up an array of Post-war American fictions in order to portray that no matter what kind of perilous journey these fictionalized characters undertake, the root cause of their distress is a dysfunctional family, increasingly marked by a sense of mutability.

Keywords: Family, Post-war, Herzog, Corrections, American Pastoral, Couples

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Tolstoy, 1984, 1)

The above quote from Anna Karenina reminds us of the fact that novel as a genre is heavily steeped into the gamut of family relations. It further highlights the fact that an unhappy family is worthy of much exploration and attention compared to a happy family. In fact the popularity of the novel as a genre is directly related to the rise of the middle class who believed in the healthy co-existence of the ‘nuclear family’ and the other governmental organizations protecting it. The post-war American fictions contradictorily subscribe to as well as criticize the notion of family being the seat of individual development. Yet the novelistic tradition continued to engage vigorously with the idea of family and its relationship with other regimes like class, community and nation.

With the advent of the modern and postmodern era, the notions of family, class, community and nation were radically transformed. The family was no longer ‘nuclear’; the communities were heterogeneous, mobile assemblages, driven by materialism and the concept of ‘nation’ was being modified by the introduction of globalization. For a long period of time the post-war American novels have been focusing on the issue of family decline or the dysfunctional family and its effect on an individual identity. Family decline in America continues to be a debatable issue, especially in academia. Several scholars have recently written books and articles reinforcing the thought that family decline is a ‘myth’ and that “the family is not declining, it is just changing” (qtd. in Popenoe, 1993, 527).

In the recent times, the term ‘family’ which is used in many ambiguous ways has become controversial. For some people the term refers to the traditional family, while for others it can also stand for a homosexual couple living together. Although for official purpose the term must be defined yet in general it is an all-encompassing concept with multiple possible meanings that can include two friends who live together, the staffs of an office, a local gang, and the family of a man. However the most common definition of a family constitutes of a domestic group in which people typically live together in a household and function as a cooperative unit, particularly through the sharing of economic resources, in the pursuit of happiness through domestic activities (Popenoe, 1993). In this paper, I will consider an array of post-war American novels which are directly or indirectly based on the seedbed of a dysfunctional family. The objective of my paper is to portray that one of the main problems that affect the fictionalized characters of these novels, is a dysfunctional family, increasingly marked by a sense of mutability…Full Text PDF

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