Confucius once said, “The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” Many people across the world deem family as the most important aspect of their life. Family is something that often teaches us moral values and helps shape the individuals we become later in our lives. The values taught by family are not only essential, but will help develop the moral character of an individual. In the short story, “Cakes,” Salvatore La Puma conveys the prominence of family values in Italian-American immigrant culture in the 1940’s industrial era.
La Puma utilizes the first paragraph as mini-ethnography to portray the unity of the Vitale family. The introduction states,
That summer he sweated from the humidity which in 1940 everyone in Brooklyn sweated from; then he sweated from the hot ovens at Carlo Amato’s pastry shop in Bensonhurst four or five nights a week; then he sweated from the hot ovens at a pastry shop Downtown every day of the week except on Sunday, when he usually slept until noon. From Downtown, Giovanni Vitale came home at the end of the workday on the BMT subway to his wife, Lisa, to their three kids Anna, Steve, and Johnny. After dinner they would all listen to the Philco. Then Giovanni and the eldest kid, Johnny, eleven, walked three long blocks and two short blocks, past the old people who fanned themselves on the stoops, to Carlo’s shop on Seventeenth Avenue (4).
The first paragraph evokes the normal and typical structure of the Italian-American immigrant family in this era. In the Vitale family, everyone has their own role. The father, Giovanni Vitale, has the duty of working long hours to provide for his family. The mother, Lisa, has the role of a homemaker, making dinner for the family, and taking care of the children. The eldest child, Johnny, has the dutiful role of helping his father at the pastry shop. The paragraph as a whole serves to illustrate the unity that lies within the Vitale household. Despite the hectic life of Giovanni, he still makes time for his family. Everyone in the family has dinner together, which further emphasizes the idea that family serves as a unit of function, where everything is done together. In addition, after dinner the Vitale family listens to a famous radio called “Philco.” The “Philco,” while acting as a cultural attribute, serves as a unifying symbol, bringing every single family member together during a specific time of day. Clearly the atmosphere presented in the Vitale’s household illustrates the prominence of family in Italian American culture.
By using an analogy, La Puma explores the role of family in teaching social values. Although it is evident that Carlo, the owner of the pastry shop on Seventeenth Avenue, is feeble, Giovanni “helped Carlo out at night, as Johnny helped him out” (4).The use of an analogy that Giovanni helps Carlo, as Johnny helps him, serves to illustrate the ideology that the family often acts as an “educator” in facilitating important values,...