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The Writer In The Family Essay

1586 words - 6 pages

Pain Shown Through Symbolism

How does one show his or her pain? Jonathan’s agony from the death of his father is

shown throughout “The Writer in the Family” by utilizing symbolism. To Jonathan, it’s as if his

father did not die a ‘complete’ death and that haunts him. This pain is shown in a unique way

throughout the story. Jonathan, as he tells this first person narrative, does not come right out and

put words to his feelings concerning his father. At the start of the story Jonathan plainly states

that his father died in 1955 and he explains the situation of how Jonathan’s aunts on his dad’s

side choose not to tell Jonathan’s grandmother about his father’s passing, but he does not reveal

the sorrow resulting from the death of his father. Instead of clearly stating Jonathan’s feelings,

Doctorow utilizes symbolism throughout the story to readdress Jonathan’s pain. The problems

with Jonathan’s father’s grave, the discomfort of Jonathan trying on clothes of his father’s and

the bad dreams Jonathan experiences are all symbols used sporadically to reflect on the pain felt

by Jonathan due to the death of his father. In “The Writer in the Family,” E.L Doctorow uses the

symbolism of the father’s missing headstone, the dreams Jonathan has of his deceased father and

Jonathan’s reactions as he tries on his father’s suit to reveal his inner conflict over his father’s

Feid 2

The first instance revealing Jonathan’s inner conflict is the image of his father’s

missing headstone. Jonathan, along with his brother, Harold, and his mother, Ruth, travel to the

cemetery one day to visit where his father, Jack, is buried. Jonathan notes, “…father’s grave was

planted with tiny shoots of evergreen but it lacked a headstone” (Doctorow 1161). Although

Jonathan demonstrates a positive attitude about visiting the grave, shown in his description of

“the tiny shots of evergreen,” the image of a lacking headstone displays his pain. More directly,

it symbolizes Jonathan’s angst from losing his father. According to the story, the headstone was

chosen and paid for, but Jack never received a headstone because the stonecutters went on strike

before the job could be completed. Jonathan’s pain from the lacking headstone symbolizing his

incomplete death, is shown when, after the death of his father, Jonathan’s aunt expects him to

write letters to his grandmother pretending to be his father. The letters are troublesome to

Jonathan because “their immediate effect is somehow to keep the father’s memory alive, to keep

him real and living to the boy” (Matterson 282). Jonathan has to keep the image of his father

alive through the letters, so he feels as if his father did not appropriately die due to the fact he

must still pretend he is living. This symbol is shown through the missing headstone for his

father’s grave. The lacking gravestone suggests that his father did not honorably die since

something- the headstone- is missing....

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