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 … nt 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 Stevies 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, Stevies father was a violent alcoholic. Skip bserved that somedays Stevies father would be … ounding 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. Teddys 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 ace and march to the bathroom and get ready for supper. pg. 43)
His aunts coldness certainly contributes to their imperfect relationship. Furthermore, Teddy has a strained connection with his uncle because of his uncles endless teasing. At the dinner table, Teddys uncle says, Hes 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 Teddys 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 Teddys 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, Rocks mother is very controlling towards her son. When Rocks parents visit him in the hospital, his mother says, If you ask me youre completely recovered now from your breakdown, and Im sure youll 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, Rocks mother does not respect her sons 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 sons marriage, Rocks 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 wont go-never-never again! (pg. 17) So extreme is Rocks emotional turmoil that he commits suicide to avoid his mothers 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 mothers need to control her son, her lack of respect for her daughter-in-law, and Rocks 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.