Family relationships through Literature

One may believe that it is family and social class is the root of your personality. An example of this maybe found through the literature of Tony Harrison, a great poet and playwright found in the twentieth century era. A number of his poetic developments mainly reside on the subject of his journey from the working class, onto an education at Leeds University which allowed him to prosper in the field of linguistics. An example of this is found in the poem “Then” and “[uz]”.

Here, the narrator is denounced by their head master for mispronunciation of a poems first line: “mi’art aches” with the reaction of “mines broken you barbarian t. w. “.

One may suggest that this shows that the narrator’s culture is being condemned by the Headmaster, who believed that colloquial language is inappropriate. We also see this in many other poems of his which could suggest his awareness of the distance between his past and present existence.

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A poem to portray this detachment of his culture; may be found in the poems “long distance 1” and “long distance 2”. The poem “long distance 1″begins with the first stanza as subtext; suggesting that a person is being spoken to or is retrospectively speaking of an emotional problem; “your bed’s got two wrong sides”.

The “long distance 2” on the other hand, begins with a set narrator who is speaking of their dead mother: “though my mother was already two years dead Dad kept her slippers warming in the gas”.

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This provides a contrast between the two poems and how they differ in the representation of the family relationships. As we read on, it seems that the first poem is a concise conversation of a father and his son, speaking of the grievance which the father has on account of his wife dying. For the son, this does not seem to be as big of a problem to him, which could therefore portray the emotional distance between the narrator and his family.

This is also suggested through the possibility of the son, also living a distance away from his father. This may be inclined through the use of ‘Lifesaver’ sweets, being bought as a present in JFK airport (USA) when meeting his Dad: “Lifesavers…. Only bought rushing through JFK as a last resort”. In term of the latter poem, this seems to show how after two years passing since the narrators mothers death, the father is still in denial, however he later dies, leaving the narrator alone to grieve over him.

In this poem, although the narrator seemed uncaring to his father’s objections to his mother’s death, it seems that in this instance, that he longs to hear his bitter words of complaint as opposed to the silence which is now on earth, forever. With the differing forms and structures of the two poems, this may create the idea that although at times, society can change us, it is the dramatic changes in our lives that can make us see more profoundly on the subjects that we took or take for granted. This may be backed up in the first stanza of the first poem, in comparison to the last stanza in the second poem.

The spontaneous conversation of the son and father in “long distance 1” seems to create the picture of a quarrel between the two, concerning the bitter account of the burden of being a widower. Their voices are made known through the use of Standard English “I let your phone-call take its dismal course”; whilst the other, through the use of Yorkshire dialect “Carrots choke us wi’out your mam’s white sauce! “. In this stanza, we are met by the sons disapproval of the fathers anger by suggesting he is never happy anymore: “Your bed’s got two wrong sides. You life’s all grouse”.

This is then replied with a possible ‘cry for help’ as the father replies: “Ah, can’t stand it no more, this empty house! “. Contrastingly, in the last stanza of “long distance 2”, it appears that although the narrator saw his father’s phone calls as ‘dismal’ before; now that he has gone, the narrator is lost without him as he still relies on hearing the voice of his father for comfort; showing the love that was always there: “in my new black leather phone book there’s your name and the disconnected number I still call. On the subject of imagery to suggest family relationships, Tony Harrison does this throughout a number of ways.

One example of this, is found in “long distance 1”; inside of the four line, first stanza. With the line: “Carrots choke us wi’out your mam’s white sauce! “, one may suggest that through the use of Yorkshire dialect, whilst the son is speaking in traditional English; it may be perceived that this provides us with the idea that the son may possibly have a higher intellect in comparison with his father, or may even show that his culture has partially been removed from what he has learnt through his studies; acting as a detachment of their relationship through the use of auditory imagery.

In “long distance 2” however, auditory imagery may be used to convey a sense of hope, or in a sense, denial of the actions of fate in reality. We see this in the third stanza, line three, as we are told that although the narrator’s mother has passed on, the narrators father still anticipates his wife’s return home: “though sure that very soon he’d hear the key scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief”.

On this quotation, one may feel that this composes the impression that although the father is waiting to hear the sound of the rugged key hole being turned, it also suggest the timeframe since his wife’s death as the ‘rusted’ lock may imply that the father has either neglected his duty to keep the house maintained, or also that the wife has been absent for so long, that domestic ‘housewife’ jobs have not being completed; such as cleaning etc.

Another imagery device which is also clearly portrayed is the use of visual imagery. One is able to see this through the use of the first long distance poem. In this poem, the imagery used seems to indicate the emotional distance between the two family members. We see this in the first stanza as instead of sympathising with his father, the son is possibly taking out his own anger on his fathers ‘dismal phones call’: “your beds got two wrong sides.

Your life all grouse”. From this quote, one may argue that the visual imagery of the bed suggests that the father will never be happy again as the son tells us that it has two ‘wrong sides’; suggesting not only the ‘saying’ of a person being angry on account of them waking up at the wrong side of the bed, but also implying his anger that his wife will never be close to him in the small pleasures of life such as sleeping, or waking up together etc.

One may also suggest that the son could also be moralising to the father; suggesting that he is not always depressed and how his father should get on with life, rather than living in morning which could possibly show the contrast in their personalities. Inside of “long distance two” at the last stanza, this may represent two ideas. Not only does this connect to the first “long distance” poem through the use of phone calls, but also suggest his grievance from the father’s death. This can be shown from the quote: “in my new black leather phone book there’s your name and the disconnected number I still call”.

From this, one may receive the idea that the narrator is more like his father than he thought. Although he suggests that: “I believe life ends with death and that is all”, it could be argued that by carrying out the same traits as his father (“disconnected number I still call”); in comparison to when his mother died, this may show that even though they were detached at times, that the narrator will always be his ‘father’s-son’ as from this perspective, it seems that their personalities handle death similarly.

Another topic which emphasises the family relationships of these two poems is voice in the poem. Through the use of a phone call, one may suggest that this is a technique which is successfully able to show a strong symbolism of the distance the two family members. This may be both emotionally and physically; as the poet is able to use the differing of language to juxtapose this against the others character. It also shows the difference in emotions when handling the mother’s death.

“Your life’s all grouse”; this may suggest the son taking his anger out on the father as a way of handling the death of his mother. For the father, when stating “Ah can’t stand it no more, this empty house! ” this could suggest a cry for help to the son and also shows his isolation, as it may show that his son hardly visits. Another use of voice is found in the perspective of the narrator in the last stanza of “Long Distance 1” as well as all four stanza’s in “Long Distance 2”.

In the first poem, we see how in this perception of the situation, it appears as if the father is punishing his son for buying him sweets “When I come around, they’ll be laid out, the sweets”, however although this is so, we are told these are Lifesavers which could also represent the son’s (narrators) caring side as he provides him with sugar free sweets: “Lifesavers, my father’s New World treats”.

By using “New World treats”, this may suggest the aging time in his Dad life, as we are provided with the idea that his father has Diabetes “Ah’m diabetic now. Got all the facts”. Although this could be suggested, at the end of this stanza we are told by the narrator that these were bought as a ‘last thought’: “only bought rushing through JFK as a last thought” which could highlight the disconnection of the two male personas.

In the latter poem, when being told of the fathers denial of the mothers death, stanza two represents how the father restricts the son from seeing his true personality as he clears up all memorabilia of the mother as if clearing up for a long distance relative: “He’d put you off an hour to give him time to clear away her things and look along as though his still raw love were such a crime”. In conclusion, Tony Harrison is able to successfully create a balance of family relationships throughout a number of ways.

He does this though a number of varying poetic techniques which in some cases is used to convey the contrast between his upbringing and his education. Be that as it may, from one’s personal opinion being based on the inspection of this poem, it seems that a valid argument to this is that although it seemed that the narrators (Harrison) relationship to his father was long distance, after his death, he appreciated who his father was and even though he was at times ‘dismal’; he still is attached to his father through the “disconnected number I still call”.

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Family relationships through Literature. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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