Cultural Context: Attitudes To The Family Unit

Cultural Context: Attitudes To The Family Unit

Below is an example of how material is taken from three text, ‘Macbeth’, ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and ‘I’m Not Scared’ so as to form paragraph topics for the three comparative genres in the 2013-14 Leaving Certificate English curriculum.

I’m not Scared

The family unit is not prioritized at all in the text, evidenced by the lack of care characters show for their family members, which is especially evident when such actions are committed in times of difficulty. This is seen in the situation near the beginning of the text when Filippo is captured due to the divide between the rich and poor in Italy in 1978. Filipo is from a northern wealthy family and is kidnapped by the poor due to their resentment at the economic hierarchy in the country at that time. While one would expect the parents of a kidnapped child to do anything possible to retrieve their son, Filippo’s parents make little effort to ensure the safety of their child; rather they refuse to pay the ransom for Filippo and stall on any worthwhile action by issuing televised messages to the kidnappers. Their refusal to consider a ransom indicates that those who are better off financially in the world of the text become dependent and obsessed with monetary values, and as a result other factors influence decisions and actions in the familial environment. Sergio’s comment confirms this, remarking that ‘Brazil’s some country. Life costs nothing. Served, venerated. It’s not like this shitty country’ so as to illustrate how economic difficulties have detrimental effects on Italy; however this not only with regard to financial matters but also on the morality of inhabitants in this space, such as Filippo’s parents. Indeed, such is the unexpected length of time that they remain away from their son that Filippo believes he and his parents are dead, naturally presuming that if they were alive they would have rescued him.

The Old Man and the Sea

While family is a forceful presence in the world of the text it is often disregarded. This is seen with Manolin’s relationship with his parents, as he presents himself as following their rule when in reality he goes against their wishes. We are told at the text’s beginning that the protagonist of the text is ‘an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.’ However it is revealed that he was not alone for all of this time; rather Manolin, a young boy, had accompanied him for almost half of this time, ‘In the first forty days a boy had been with him.’ The partial dominance of the family is then shown, as Manolin’s parents are revealed to have caused the divide between the old man and their son; they decided that for the boy to be successful in his potential career as a fish he had to move to another group, as the old man was cursed, ‘now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish in the first week.’ However despite the family’s desire to distance their son from the cursed fisherman Manolin returns to his side on a daily basis, indicating how the family may have influence but that this is not overwhelming. The narrator reveals that the boy grew sad at seeing the old man returning empty-handed each day and thus helped him bring in his fishing equipment, ‘he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast.’

Macbeth

In the play family is not prioritized, as various individuals neglect familial ties in difficult situations; if these were strong then family members would be valued and helped in such times of strife. This is seen with Macbeth’s abandonment of Lady Macbeth, especially after she proves herself a devoted wife at the play’s beginning. Early on she realizes her husband’s ambition to be king, and is focused on helping him realize this; indeed, one of the first things she thinks about is how to overcome the one obstacle that will prevent Macbeth from attaining what he wants, that his nature ‘is too full o’ the milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way’. As the initial scenes progress she helps Macbeth realize this ambition, forming the plan to kill the king and frame the chamberlains, while also convincing her husband to commit the act of regicide after his initial misgivings by steeling him for the task. However despite her constant help, such as later presenting Macbeth’s erratic behavior at the feast scene when he views Banquo’s ghost as illness and thus removing any possibility of suspicion, Macbeth cares little for his wife at her time of need. When she begins to decline psychologically Macbeth leaves her in the care of the doctor, preferring instead to focus on the battle at hand with Malcolm and the English forces. His lack of care is emphasized later when Lady Macbeth’s death is announced; it can be presumed Macbeth’s ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’ speech is not about his wife, for he does not mention her, as one would expect a eulogy to include mention of the deceased; rather he callously remarks of Lady Macbeth that ‘She would have died at sometime, either now or later’. Instead, Macbeth uses his wife’s death to excuse his actions, remarking on how life has no meaning, and that one’s life merely serves the purpose of directing an individual to ‘dusty death’, a journey that goes at a ‘petty pace’ that proves that life is ‘Signifying nothing’. As a result, Macbeth attempts to excuse what he has done previously; if life is insignificant then the afterlife will hold no terrible repercussions for him. Similar lack of care for family is shown with other characters such as Malcolm, who flees from Scotland immediately after his father’s death; this shows a devaluing of family as Malcolm is abandoning the throne which is in his family lineage and which he has made been heir to by his father recently. On a more general level one would also expect a son to stay after his father’s death, either out of respect or to avenge his father’s death. Rather, Malcolm simply worries that he is threatened and flees to England, declaring ‘This murderous shaft that’s shot/ Hath not yet lighted, and our safest way/ Is to avoid the aim.’

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About the Author

John Ryan

John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.
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